Saturday, September 7, 2013
Bringing a character to life
This is where a character flatlines for me. If I constantly have to hear about his jaw of a Greek God or chiseled abs, I have no sense of who he is, outside of being Mr. Fine.
I don't often think up character traits before I write. Sometimes fleshing them out comes during the first draft or even the second draft. Sometimes it comes later in a series when I get to know them a little better. An important part of bringing your character to life is to give them a unique personality. Something that makes them stand out, that each time they do this thing, you think, "Oh, that's so Gary! He always does that thing with his hand where he pinches his chin." And sometimes that action your character does becomes a "tell", where without explanation of feelings, your reader knows if he's angry, nervous, or embarrassed.
Some examples of what I do:
- Silver has a thing about picking labels on her beer bottles. It could also account for why she's always spilling her drinks.
- Adam tends to rub the back of his neck when he's uncertain about something or uncomfortable.
- Justus rubs his tat when he's thinking, or laces his fingers together. He sometimes is unable to control his Thermal ability when he's upset.
- Simon is more animated with his hands when he gets excited. He'll pace around, fold his arms, and even gets a jumpy leg when sitting.
- Knox tugs on his knit cap, flips his lighter open and shut.
- Sunny's lip swells when she's upset. She also does a hair-twirling thing when talking.
- Novis does a lip or chin pinch when thinking. He also botches idioms.
- Nero chews on toothpicks, rolls up his sleeves when he's getting down to business
- Finn avoids eye contact and is always messing with his hair to cover his ears
- Christian is always nibbling on candy and has a thing about people who litter
- Logan's traits are often in his posture. He stands with his arms at his side or clasps his hands together. He covers his mouth with a fist to conceal laughter, widens his legs when sitting. But he has all kinds of Chitah characteristics in the sounds he makes, how he doesn't break eye contact, and even the tilt of his head.
- Page taps her nose when thinking and has a blush that doesn't just redden her cheeks, but her neck and hands.
So these are just a few snippets of personality traits. These go beyond the types of clothes a character likes to wear, and I didn't list "key words" that they often say. I actually did some research on body language and what that silently conveys, including a man's posture when sitting (leg's open, crossed, etc.) I try not to have way too many things going on, because you really only need a couple. It gets confusing if the reader has to remember a list. But you also don't want to stereotype them, which is why Simon is not always in leather pants. lol We are all more than who we portray ourselves to be.
One important thing to do is people-watch. I used to do it at work and I often do it in public. I watch people's mannerisms, interaction with others, eye movement, and habits. It gives me ideas, because some of the crazy stuff I've seen and heard I could have never imagined myself!
I have a character in an upcoming book who jingles change in his pocket, and another who is always stumbling into things, and an interesting fellow who often puts an unlit cigarette in his mouth or tucked behind his ear. These mannerisms are all part of the building blocks to creating characters. We all have little things we do that make us who we are. Maybe when nervous, we start picking our nails, or we laugh at inappropriate times as a defense mechanism. I hope this process has made is easier for you to get to know my characters, as if they were real people. Each has a different way of laughing, speaking, or showing emotion.
When you have a full cast of characters in a book or series, it becomes challenging. It's imperative to know who they are, what makes them tick, and to also keep bios for consistency. You can't have them despising popcorn and three books later, eating it.
So the next time you're ready a book - any book - take time to notice how the author developed that character. What is it that really made them leap out of the page for you?