Rather than doing the Weekly Challenge this week, I thought I’d partake in a blogging event. One event that was introduced to me through Contortum Designs (beautiful handcrafted jewelery, take a peek!) is called Share Your World. Each Monday, you’re given four random questions to play around with.
The problem with this is I can’t help but wonder, “Who gives a sparrow’s fart about me?” and “How can I tie this to my writing?” Well, the solution to both of these musings is to have one of my characters from my upcoming book The Trials of Hercules answer the questions. And that got me thinking of a post on….
Building Better Characters
(By the way, the character interview follows this bit, so please scroll down if you’ve no interest in characterization in fiction)
There are shelves filled with books, regular magazine articles, and tons of advice about how to create realistic characters, so this post is not going to delve into every aspect of character development. Since this is one area of writing I study and practice regularly, I have learned a few tidbits on how to make characters that will interest your readers…
Know your characters’ positive and negative traits. No one is all good and no one is all evil. If your character holds a moral high ground, understand why. If your character hates the world and wants to bring about its demise, you really need to understand why. Heroes and villains (especially villains) with no motivation are one-dimensional, boring, and forgettable.
Understand how your character will change throughout the story and make sure that change makes sense. Most stories involve some sort of character change, but sudden changes will leave readers rolling their eyeballs and putting down your book. If your character who has been a straight-laced, goody two-shoes through the first 250 pages of your book suddenly starts shoplifting on page 251, you need to have a reason for it.
Write out brief character sketches. Trust me, you may come up with the most brilliant backstory for your character, have his motivations completely laid out, and develop an award-worthy character arc for him, but if you don’t write (or type) it out, you will forget it by the time you’re two chapters into the first draft. Take the time before ever writing page one to write at least a page about each main character and at least half a page for each supporting character. Include what they look like, their positive and negative traits, their role in the story, and whatever else comes to mind. When you start into subsequent drafts, re-read these notes.
Forget those pre-made character questionnaires. Yes, you need to understand your characters’ background, but too many of those questionnaires are just busy work. Instead of filling out when your character had her first kiss, what her first grade teacher’s name was, what church her parents when to, and a myriad of other questions that may have nothing to do with your story, focus on a character sketch with background info that absolutely will relate to your overall story. If she got caught by her parents during that first kiss, was punished horribly because they are strictly religious so she turned to her first grade teacher for help and that teacher gave her future motivation, then yes, include those things. If not, find out what has influenced your character and focus on that.
Make each character unique. This can be hard, but every time a new character comes on the scene, identify them by pointing out some unique visible feature. This immediately locks that character into your reader’s visual mind. Unless they are very striking avoid cliches like eye or heir color, and instead linger on a chin shape, a certain gait, or the sound of their voice. Without being too kitschy, try to give characters a habit, a saying, an item of clothing, or a quirk that makes them different. Whenever possible, distinguish characters with different patterns of speech (read your dialogue aloud to work on this).
Interview your characters. Who knows what you’ll discover!
A Little Background: Hera is the head goddess of the gods of Osteria. She’s married to Zeus who enjoys any bed but his own marriage bed and she cannot stand the bastard children he creates during these dalliances. Above all, Hera is jealous, unforgiving, and very proud.
Question: What is your favorite type of dog?
Hera’s Answer: I don’t care about breed, just as long as the dog is faithful and loyal. Any dog that runs away will not be welcome back at the end of my leash.
Q: What is one thing most people don’t know about you?
HA: Demeter drives me insane. I know she’s the goddess of grains and crops, but does she have to bring her damn seeds up into our common room on Olympus? I mean, we are gods, we shouldn’t be seen sorting grain like some mortal. If she’s going to insist on doing that sort of thing, i wish she’d do it in her room, not where everyone can see.
Q: Have you ever gone scuba diving? If you haven’t, would you want to?
HA: That’s really more my brother Poseidon’s thing. The only fish I like is served with lemon and salt.
Q: What was the most important event in your life last week?
HA: Zeus thought he was cleverly hiding away his latest lover – some tart named Io. So, I had Hermes kidnap her and put her under the guard of my hundred-eyed dragon. It’s been great fun watching Zeus try to figure out where she’s gone to.
And that concludes our interview with Hera. If you liked this and want to see more interviews with other characters, please click the Like button below and I’ll be sure to do some more over the next few weeks.
By the way, if this has made you curious about The Trials of Hercules, please head over to the page on this website or have a peek at the book’s Media Kit: Media Kit – Trials Of Hercules, Tammie Painter (PDF)