Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Know Your Characters: Nano Tip # 2

There are many famous characters in the world: There's the red-haired orphan girl who'd rather take a foolish dare than look like a wimp -- even if it means walking the ridgepole of a barn in dress shoes; The boy with the lightening-shaped scar on his forhead who often feels alone in the world even though his two best friends are standing firmly right beside him; the thin, pathetic shell of a creature who stole a magic ring from a sorcerer and had it eat up his soul and now has no hope, no care, no motivation in the world other than getting that ring back from the poor little hobbit who took it from him...
Yes, these are characters we all know. Whether it's Anne of Green Gables (or Pipi Longstocking -- she had similar character traits,) Harry Potter, or Gollum from the Lord of the Rings... A strong character will act like him or herself at all times. That character will lead the author like a guide, through the pages of a book.
If the author throws a problem at that character, both the author and the reader know how that character will most likley react.

But great characters don't create themselves. First the author must invent them-- in basic form. Then he or she must sit with the characters awhile, and ask them some questions to really get to know them. What are their likes and dislikes? Who are their best friends (and why)? What are they most afraid of? What is their biggest goal in life? Do they have hobbies?
If you want to avoid the problem that I had with my first novel-- a problem of having one of my characters fall completely flat -- it's important to get to know your characters (main and secondary) in some approximation BEFORE you begin writing your novel. : )

That task may seem daunting -- but there are lots of fun ways to do this.
Here are some tips.

1.) Know the answers to the questions (listed 2 paragraphs above) about each of your main /secondary characters.

2.) Know enough about Your characters' appearances so that you can picture them in your head. Some authors actually peruse magazine photos to find their characters.

3.) Know the basics about your characters' socio-economic and educational status, their favorite type of clothing (personal style), and what type of people drive them crazy.

4.) If you have time, fill out a meme for your main characters. This will show you how well you actually know them! Meme's are also great exercises for getting your right-brain working again if you run out of steam in the middle of your novel!

5.) Here are some other great Character Building resources on the web:

a.) "Inspiration For Writers" has a GREAT, very detailed Character Traits form you can fill in. It's the perfect place to start!

b.) "Personality Page for Writers" allows you to find your character's myers-briggs type and all kinds of other fun ways to peg who your character really is.

c.) Montgomery Schools' provides a helpful List of character traits

d.) Fiction Factor has a moderately helpful article on Characters' Physical Traits: What to include in your story and what to, maybe, leave out.

Now, of course, you may not have time to do all of these "character building" activities. Pick and choose what works for you.

The main thing when writing a character is to know enough about their inner wants and needs, and their outer appearance, actions, and relationships, to make them appear real on the page.

We want our characters to be so real that readers around the world will know exactly who others are talking about when they say "what's that kid's name? You know, not that wizard kid with the scar whose parents were murdered, but his friend, the blonde girl who they all thought was stuck up, and who is almost too smart for her own good?"

Yep -- the whole world knows Hermione... and Ron, Harry, Anne, Pippi, Gollum, Gandalf, Hamlet, Clark Kent, Charlotte the Spider -- and many of us also know silly little Clover sitting on Levin Thump's shoulder, above.

So let's all have fun learning about our own characters and making them similarly unique and engaging!


C.R. Evers said...

Wow! great and very thorough info!

In my planning I find myself getting to later chapters and realizing I need to know more about the character and I think "Gosh, it's good I figuring this out before I start Nano, or else I'd really get stuck!"

Great post!


Janelle said...

LOL Christy. Aha! And see, THAT is why I'm posting this stuff!

But seriously, I am on my 4th revision of my first ever nano book (right now) -- Finally got it out of the drawer and have decided to try to make it publish-worthy. Yet at the beginning of this edition I was still really struggling with my main character's girlfriend. I just felt like I didn't know her. One of my critiquers wisely figured out the problem. "She was barbie."
Ack! It's true - too blonde and too perfect! So now I've tossed in some family problems for her, a couple of bad habits, and a major character flaw...and presto-NOW SHE'S HUMAN! : ) Much better. Or at least I hope so. We'll see what the readers think when the book comes out. Hee Hee.

Bish Denham said...

Good stuff.

Building Believable Characters by Marc McCutcheon has proved a good resource for me.

just Joan said...

Great post! Definitely need to know the characters before writing. I have a love/hate relationship with filling out character sketches.

Thanks for the links! Very helpful.

Janelle said...

Bish, Joan -- here you are, together at last!

Bish - Thanks for the great-sounding resource by Marc McCutcheon. I'll have to check that one out too.

Joan - A love/hate relationship, huh? : ) I must admit that I really like them -- ("Hello, my name is Janelle and I'm a character sketch junkie.")