Monday, April 1, 2013

Building a character

Seems simple enough. Just make an outline:

Hair: Black, spiked
Nose: Straight
Shoulders: Broad
Eyes: Blue

Usually when I start writing, I have a base model in my head. I think of it like a ball of clay. As I'm writing, my character starts to step forward. I'm reminded of when I talk to someone on the phone I've never met, and formulate an idea in my head of what they look like. Then when I see them, I think, "You're not what I expected."

Give your characters room to grow as you're writing. Sometimes down the line, you start to see them more clearly. A dimple shows up, or a scar over their brow (which can lead to a back story of how they got it), or a smile that's crooked, and maybe their eyes aren't blue after all. Justus did a 180 from his original character in a previous book. He even decided that he shaved his head, because he has a thing about grooming himself. Sometimes how they look is a reflection of their personality. I have a character named Christian with a scruff on his jaw - more of a short beard, but he lets the damn thing grow all over the place like a Chia pet. So instead of neatly trimming, he has whiskers in odd spots, like on his neck. This is a man who just doesn't care about impressions. It might also depict him as a hard worker who doesn't take time out to take care of himself. Or maybe he just wants to hide beneath all those whiskers.

For me, part of the fun in writing a story is letting the characters tell me who they are, and I have to be flexible to that or it never feels right. This doesn't just apply toward the physical appearance, but also personality. Sometimes they develop funny little quirks that are uniquely them. Christian took up a candy eating habit, and he has a thing about littering. I sure didn't write that up in his bio when I created him.

This happened just recently in a book I wrote where one of the characters (in my head) kept staring at me from the sofa with a pissed off look on his face. He wanted me to know that he wasn't clean shaven. I had everything mapped out and he had to go and boycott razors. Then I had another who toward the end, decided that he had a slightly crooked nose. Sometimes allowing those small tidbits not only bring them to life, but they can also flesh out more of a history.

Even Novis has a little habit of his own that I hadn't noticed in earlier books, because I didn't get to know him as well as the other characters. I guess it's like that in real life; the longer you sit down and really talk to someone or get to know them, the more you discover things you never noticed before.

Like my coworker who has been hoarding about 30 shoes underneath her desk for God knows how long, and I hadn't noticed until last week. Even more strange was that there were several I'd never seen her wear before.

So building a character for me is a work in progress that begins with a ball of clay that's kind of shaped like a person. The story molds itself.

1 comment:

  1. And this is why your characters totally ROCK! :)

    That was fun to read. Thank for sharing it with us.