Monday, June 20, 2011

Who is that Character? Asks Author Christine Verstraete

From the mundane and ordinary daily activities, to special interests or tastes, it's often the little things that help define a character and make them real to the reader.

But that doesn't mean we need to know every-single-thing that person eats or does. A character isn't a list. They should be doing something to achieve their goal and solve their problem.

Yes, ordinary activities can be touched on, but keep it light and move on. A line or two showing the character eating breakfast, for instance, or their lack of it, if touched on briefly, can do a lot to show the type of person they are.

Consider: are they a breakfast skipper? They could be someone who is nervous, doesn't like to waste time, is anxious, or just hates eating in the morning. A hearty breakfaster can be someone who likes to mull things over as they eat, or who is leisurely, calculated, patient, etc. More can be learned by the character's food choices: eggs vs. Captain Crunch cereal, fruit vs. pancakes. You get the idea.

Making Them Real

Other ways to bring your character to life:

* Give them a hobby, a special interest, or collection.
Does it tie into the crime or main story? Does the character's involvement put them in danger or can it serve as a distraction? How does it further define their personality?

* Make them a pet owner, animal hater or have them fear a certain animal.
How does an animal define them? How does it define how they do their job or impact their personality?

For instance, their love, fear or hatred of animals can put them at a certain advantage or disadvantage. It can show a different side of their personality, whether good or bad, nice or mean.

* Have their belongings and home, or lack thereof, reflect their social standing.
A lot can be revealed by showing how someone dresses, where they live, and what they own, don't own, or choose not to have.

* Don't forget to use the five senses to make the scene and character more alive.

While most of this may seem typical to the writer, as you get involved in the story it is easy sometimes to overlook or gloss over the smaller details.

The sneer of a lip, a smirk, a lowering of the eyelashes, all are actions that combined with a strong plot and a quick-moving story can make that character into someone memorable - a person the reader despises, fears, maybe even adores, but most importantly, wants to know more about. It is then you as a writer have succeeded.

** Christine Verstraete's latest stories include "The Killer Valentine Ball" from MuseItUp Publishing; "Kinetic Dreams" in Hot & Steamy, Tales of Steampunk Romance and "Edison Kinetic Light and Steam Power" in Steampunk'd, both from DAW Books. She also is author of the dollhouse collector's book, In Miniature Style II, and a children's mystery, Searching for a Starry Night, A Miniature Art Mystery.


Barbara Ehrentreu said...

Very good post on how to bring a character to life. If anyone is interested in a method to do this, please visit my blog post from June 2nd, Developing Characters: How Do I Make My Characters Unique? on the MuseItUp blog:
where I discuss the character wheel.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

These are wonderful suggestions--helpful to all writers. Thanks for sharing them.

Jacqueline Seewald

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

Great post. Thank you.

CA Verstraete said...

thanks ladies, and where're your ideas? :>)

Morgan Mandel said...

Those are all great ideas. Now, I just have to remember them when I write!

Morgan Mandel

Anonymous said...

You have a wonderful way of making them real. Thank you for sharing it.

CA Verstraete said...

Thanks Morgan, Kay, I know, I have to remember my own advice, too haa!

Charlie said...

Wonderful tips, Chris. I can definitely see adding some of these characteristics to my latest MC. Very nice. Thanks for sharing.
C.K. Volnek

J.Q. Rose said...

You have shared some excellent ways to make a character real. This is a keeper! Thanks...

Christopher Hoare said...

Hi Christine:
I like your detail involved in making important characters seem real, but what about the minor characters who might carry an important action--- perhaps only appearing for a single page. How do you keep these from being wooden?