Friday, May 6, 2016

What's In A Character?

          What's in a character, that which we call a rose... wait... that's a name. Oops. But really, what makes up a good character?   

          Characters are one of the most important parts of developing a story. Without characters, well, you'd just have a setting and a vague idea. As writers, we have to learn what makes a good, well-rounded character. After all readers...

It's true. Readers will form their own picture in their head of how they think a character looks based on your physical description of the character. But you can't just physically describe the character; they'd just come off as one-dimensional and boring. Characters need personality, depth, goals, wishes, needs, dreams... you get the picture. 
One-Dimensional Characters can appear flat...

How does your character walk? Does he/she have a heavy-footed stomp, a light, bouncy gait, or a sexy swagger? Where is the story set, should your character have an accent? How do they dress? Why do they dress that way?
*Almost remember to show your reader instead of telling them. Instead of saying: "He had a southern accent." you could say, "His accent was as thick as molasses in January and the way he drawled his words sent a shiver down her spine."

All that aside, where can you find character inspiration? 

People Watching
I'm an avid people-watcher. It is a habit I sink into automatically whenever I'm out in the general public. All you have to do is pay attention and watch.

The Walmart employee dressed up for St. Patrick's Day? That's a real leprechaun turned away from his clan because he was too tall. Without his pot of gold, he has to work a dead-end retail job for a living.
Darn, those pesky leprechauns...

The little old man crossing the street wearing a red English driving cap is really a weathered old art dealer. He's walked with that antique hand-carved cane ever since a high-risk art deal went bad and his buyer broke his kneecap. Oh, the secrets those deep wrinkles that line his face could tell.

The girl that works at the bookstore with the horn-rimmed glasses? She's really a spy, the mousy book clerk job is just a front. She's undercover chasing after a rare stolen manuscript, but she's been distracted by falling in love with her hunky tattooed co-worker. 

See? Character inspiration can spring forth from watching people and thinking about what stories they might have hidden under the surface. 

Visual Inspiration

Much like last week's blog pictures can inspire how you see (and how you want your readers to see) your characters. Does a model's picture in a magazine spark your inspiration? Do you see a visually pleasing photo of a person on Pinterest? A lot of the time when I really need to get a visual representation of how my characters look in my head I pop onto Pinterest and search through photos. I even put the pictures I find onto an inspiration board for whatever book I'm working on. Inspiration boards are a major help to writers.
Not only is this an awesome picture, this is pretty much how I envisioned Lizette in Out of Darkness.

Family and Friends
Sometimes the people you know are just such... characters! We all know and love people that are just so different they'd make amazing characters in our writing projects. On the flipside, you might know someone who's hurt you or made you made angry so you might write that person into your story because killing them on paper is okay... in real life... not so much. 

Just a fair word of advice, if you write someone into your story when you're mad at them you may not still be angry with them by the end of the book and you may regret killing the character off. Either way, I don't suggest using their real name, maybe just their physical description.

Have I ever used someone I know as inspiration in a story? Yes, yes I  have. I've never used a real name, just a vague description, and sometimes the resemblance is only noticeable to me. While I won't tell you which characters are based on people I know, I will tell you that a lot of my male characters are loosely (and I really do mean loosely) based off of guys I've known. Guys I knew in high school then never saw again, guys I was involved with and it ended badly, guys I was involved with and it ended amicably but it didn't end amicably for the character, possibly a guy I'm currently involved with (shh!)...
Then there are friends. But in all cases, these are just vague comparisons. Most times the physical descriptions are far from what the actual person looks like. So who knows, I might just have written about you ;)

Always remember... if you're friends with a writer...

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