Whenever I’m developing a plot for a story, I feel a little like a seamstress trying to make a whole quilt out of a few scattered, seemingly mismatched patches. I have a sense of an ending, a few random visuals or snippets of dialogue, and, if I’m lucky, the mental images of three or four characters I want to go on this journey with. The act of writing then becomes finding more patches and an overall working pattern to connect all this disparate pieces into something warm and snuggable, that you want to wrap up with in front of a cozy fire.
What I’ve found is that, when you’re still in the process of brainstorming ideas of your story, it can help to take a good long look at your characters. Ask yourself, what are their strengths? What are their weaknesses? And how can I use those strengths and weaknesses to create the successes and triumphs of that character’s story arc?
Hello, lovely writers! It’s Monday, which means it’s time for another post about the weird, wonderful world of writing. Lately, as I revise this beast of a novel, I’ve been thinking about where my characters initially came from — and how far they’ve traveled since those original conceptions.
From first draft to tenth (or twentieth, who’s counting), some of my characters have changed gender, changed skintone, changed personality or physicality; some look exactly like my original idea but act nothing like them; and some are exactly the same as they were that first day I put pen to page and gave them life. Interestingly, some that have changed the most from my original mental image were characters that I had initially modeled after a random actor — either because the character itself naturally evolved, or because my interest in that actor, for whatever reason, flatlined, and the character morphed accordingly.
I’m wondering, have you ever based a character on a real person? An actor, maybe, or someone from your real life? Do you find that method more helpful, or more constrictive than creating them from scratch? I’m going to go through those three options below, and unpack my feelings about each a little more.
(Coupled with some peeks of my character aesthetics boards on Pinterest, because I can’t get enough of them, okay?)
We’ve all had those moments when we’ve had to come to terms with the fact that the character we envision in our heads isn’t quite the person staring back at us from the page. Their voice, their mannerisms, their decisions, aren’t quite what we imagined in our heads. Maybe your gallant heroine came out of your first draft with rather darker motivations than you intended, or there’s something about your love-interest’s behavior that, for no reason you can quite put your finger on, really makes you want to drop-kick the guy right out of your story.
Here’s an unexpected problem I stumbled across in editing my WIP—my main character sounded younger, more naïve, and, frankly, whinier than I ever meant for him to come across. Luckily, it wasn’t hard to identify why.
The dude asked too many questions.
Do you ever get irritated when someone treats what should’ve been a casual conversation as an opportunity to straight-up interrogate you? Since when did small talk come with a side order of psychoanalysis? Have you ever been trying to concentrate on something, only to have someone standing at your side asking you question after question after question, until your nerves are rattled? (Well?? Have you???)
My character spent much of the opening chapters of my WIP asking questions about the world around him. While a lot of the information imparted to my character during these exchanges is essential to moving the plot forward, there’s no reason this grown adult needs to sound like a precocious four year old ceaselessly demanding to know “Why?”
If your character is constantly asking questions, they can come off as younger, more naïve, and — frankly– more annoying than you intend. Find a more engaging way to impart crucial plot information than bland interrogations between characters.
Show of hands: who has taken Pottermore’s Patronus Test?
Show of hands: who has taken it multiple times because they don’t like any of their results? Well, as much as we love sorting ourselves into Houses, finding our wand size, make, and core, and, now, discovering what completely arbitrary creature will protect us from Dementors, it turns out the same techniques we use to insert ourselves into the world of Harry Potter can be used to flesh out our characters as well!
If you’re well-versed in the Harry Potter world, it can be tons of fun to imagine what your own original characters might do if let loose on the Hogwarts grounds. Lots of people sort their characters into the Hogwarts houses — the studious into Ravenclaw, the brave and reckless into Gryffindor, the ambitious into Slytherin, and the loyal and hard workers into Hufflepuff. But there’s so much more you can do beyond sticking an imaginary Sorting Hat onto your characters’ noggins.
Take a character from your WIP and see if you can answer the following questions about them. Writing down detailed responses, even expanding your answers into scenes, will help kick your creativity into overdrive, and might teach you something about your characters you hadn’t realized before!