Thursday, May 18, 2017

Digging Deeper: Characters

In my last post on my characters I touched lightly upon the seriousness of having depth and meaning in your book. So in this post I really want to drive that point home because depth has a very broad meaning. Whether it's talking about your characters, story plots, or (if you are writing fantasy) the world you created, you need to make it real! Planning is a huge aspect of this.
(I, personally, love to use Evernote to store all my everythings! From story plots and characters to the Lorien Language and clothing names, it's all there in one place.)
When you're writing, you're not just making a story (Although that's the main objective) you're taking the reader into a new world to go on a grand adventure! (so don't forget your handkerchiefs)
 Image result for bilbo i forgot my handkerchief
To start you have Characters:
    As soon as you start to write about a character, that person needs to become as real as your friends and family. Every little thing about them makes the character live and breath.
But it all has to be within the context of the story. You can't start talking about how much your character loves burritos in the middle of a complex dialogue that reveals the character's history. What you could do, is talk about how the burritos reminded him of his mother's cooking, therefor leading him into the deep waters of memory. Be complex. Don't distract.
You characters have a personality, a preference, and an objective that needs to influence every choice the they makes. This is where it gets tricky for the author. You have to literally step into your characters footwear (which changes depending on what time period, genre, and scenario you're writing in) to grasp who they are. You have to get into their head to hear what they are thinking. You are no longer sitting in your chair writing and thinking about what you might do - you have to be your characters and think of what they would do.

Because of reading...:
    That's why character arcs are so important. People who don't change never move any further than where they are right now, so your story doesn't progress and your characters remain as simply little puppets. When you write, don't just create a character - create a living person! Someone who can go through the same struggles we face in our day to day lives. If you're character struggles with loyalty, let them find somebody worth dying for. If you character struggles with doubt, let them find confidence!
   Here's a simple checklist to see how deep your character is.
  1. Is your character's thinking unique from your other characters? If it isn't, this is a good indicator that your character is blending in with the crowd, which is not a good thing. 
  2. Does your character have a preference? Everybody is on a side. Whether it's with the crowd, against the crowd, or on their own, your character needs to know what he/she believes in. Don't make a hamster running around in a wheel but never going anywhere.
  3. What is a random thing that your character does when he/she is nervous? When I read books that have deep characters, they all have that one little nervous quirk. It's just like real people. My brother waves his hands by his side when he's excited, whereas I tend to have a nervous leg twitch. 
  4. Does your character struggle with something? Everybody has a personal struggle that needs to be overcome. Whether it's doubt, stubbornness, anger, or fear is dependent on how you want your story line to go. The character's struggle needs to be overcome throughout the story and it is this attribute that shapes everything. Choose wisely!
  5. Last but no least: Is your character thinking and talking? It's far to easy to just go along with the story and never give a thought to your character's mental world. Or the opposite and they spend all their time thinking and never talking. In a stressful situation where there is nobody to talk to, the character can still think. In an intense scene between two foes, they should never stay silent. When something confusing comes up he/she needs to reason it out. When there is a quiet moment between two friends, they need to share their feelings. Writing out your character's thoughts allows the reader to step inside the character's head and so "become" that character. Making your character talk allows the character to guide the reader through the story and not have it told to them like a history lesson.
If one or more of these things is missing from your book, I highly suggest you step back and take a fresh look at your story. You may have all the in's and out's of your story so settled in your mind that it seems deep and perfectly reasonable; but to a fresh set of eyes where those details are not apparent in black and white, the story can seem shallow and weak. The reader will get a hint that there is something deeper, but will always wonder what unless you write it into your character's personality. (And trust me, that drives a reader crazy!)

Come back next week and we'll get into the complexity of creating a world for your character! (this applies to fantasy writers and non-fantasy writers alike!)

What attributes make characters real to you? Please drop a comment down below and share!

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