When I was learning the craft of fictional writing, I struggled with characterization. My characters were boring and flat. I didn't know how to make fictional characters come to life. It was a paradox; with a degree in psychology, this should be easy, right? No. In fact, it took time, research, and creativity.
When did I realize my characters were flat?
I started to dislike them. Don't get me wrong, they weren't rude, disgusting, or evil villains. Truly, they were strong, handsome, kind, and...boring. They lacked so much personality that I couldn't even picture them in my head. That was a problem.
If I couldn't picture my characters, I couldn't correctly correlate their actions or emotions to a situation. I often sat in front of my computer, asking myself: What would someone do in this situation? I wrote a lot of grins and shoulder shrugs, but that was neither believable nor relatable. I found myself going through the typical actions with little thought of my characters' personalities. I had to ask myself: who are my characters, really?
That question takes time and effort to answer. Characters are complex, just like us humans. We are three-dimensional beings. Our appearance, personality, and drive make us who we are.
Ask a stranger to describe you, and if he doesn't run away from your crazy, he most likely will describe your physical attributes. Maybe you have brown hair and blue eyes or blonde hair and green eyes. Either way, that stranger has no way of describing your personality, right? That takes a bit of knowing who you are personally. What can you give the stranger so that he may describe you beyond your physical characteristics? Pictures? Details of your childhood? Meaningful life events or experiences? Would you allow him to interview you? Play 20 questions? Why not? Those are all excellent ideas.
Why, the past?
The past molds you and me and everybody else into the characters we are today. We grow, develop, and learn from our past experiences and relationships. We learn from our mistakes. We learn from our parents, teachers, friends, and co-workers. We learn from hard times and good. Some of us may endure an event so traumatic it leaves a permanent scar on our precious souls, and, on the contrary, some of us learn from love so profound that we are the very foundation of happiness and smiles. All of these experiences and relationships dictate how characters act and feel.
My protagonist from Perfect Freedom had endured a traumatic event as a child, so it made sense to give her post-traumatic stress disorder. I had to dive into loads of research and better her actions and thoughts to match her past and the characteristics of that disorder appropriately. That wasn't an easy task, but it was worth it as it added another layer to the story, giving it more depth. (I have a book recommendation below)
How I connected with my characters on a deeper level
I interview them! (Example of the interview below) Literally, I asked my characters everything, from their favorite color to their most embarrassing moment. No question was too small, too silly, too boring, or too big. Remember, you need to create a character that practically jumps off the page and starts talking to you. Dig deep! Ask your characters about their childhood, a moment that changed them forever, bad or good, get all the juicy gossip. Ask their likes and dislikes, and while you're asking these questions, pay attention to their body language and facial ticks. I also liked the interview technique because I answered each question in a way I knew my characters would answer. Truthfully, it was a lot of fun, and yup, I said fun; only writers will understand.
What I did to help me visual characters
Pinterest! This was my favorite character-building technique. I created folders for each character, and I added pictures comparable to my characters' attributes like hairstyle, eye color, body type, etc. Plus, I created folders with pictures representing each characters' lifestyle: the car they drove, their house, the town they lived in, their attire, friends, job, interior design, etc. I even added pictures of their favorite food, restaurant, drink. Even more, I added pics of their pet, co-workers, or neighbors. Anything you can think of, add it.
Other fun ways to know/understand/visualize your character(s)
Create a journal or diary for each character. Start on an early date, when the character was young. Write each entry like you would a normal diary and do this until the present day. Draw pictures and/or side notes. Make it look and feel real; after all, you are trying to make your characters feel real, right?
Leaving you with some words of advice!
Have fun and get creative, and don't rush. Each major character needs your undivided attention. However, don't get too picky and/or consumed with these character side projects. Losing a month's worth of writing will only add to a different sort of stress. These techniques are tools to help you not consume you and your time.
visit my Pinterest at www.pinterest.com/eliz12mason
Interviewer: Good morning, Maeve. How are you?
Maeve: I'm doing well; thank you.
Interviewer: What is your full name?
Maeve: Maeve Riley Murray.
Interviewer: What does your name mean to you? Does it have a special meaning?
Maeve: (Maeve smiled) My father. He was Irish and told me Maeve was the name of a warrior queen. (Maeve laughs) I'm not a queen, but I am a warrior (Maeve winks).
Interviewer: Where were you born?
Maeve: Savannah, Georgia.
Interviewer: Do you like living in Savannah?
Maeve: I LOVE living in Savannah.
Maeve: I adore the historic and haunting vibe of the city.
Interviewer: Explain Savannah to me through your eyes.
Maeve: Ah, so poetic. (Maeve chuckles) I love everything about Savannah. Let’s see…. I love the cobblestone streets' look. They add character and bring us back in time, but they are a bitch to walk on with all the large cracks and holes. The garden squares are unique to Savannah. They keep the city vibrant and fresh, and the oak trees with drizzling silver Spanish moss are a staple. They bring a real spooky feel. But what I love most is the city’s culture: abuzz with art, festivals, concerts, live theater, outdoor cafes, gourmet restaurants, and the city folk have true southern hospitality.
Interviewer: I wouldn't have known you were from Savannah. Why is that?
Maeve: That’s a fair question. I grew up at the DCU.
Interviewer: What's the DCU?
Maeve: Demon control Unit.
Interviewer: Please, explain?
Maeve: It is a secret government agency just like Area 51. (Maeve laughs) I guess it’s not a secret anymore.
Interviewer: Do you have aliens?
Maeve: What? (Maeve laughs) No! We are a DEMON control unit, ma'am. Aliens are demons.
Interviewer: So, you're saying demons exist?
Interviewer: And what do they look like?
Maeve: They can look like you and me, but much prettier. Some are shifters and can look like your grandma or like your neighbor’s dog. Some are a specific demon breed and look like monsters, bigfoots, shadow people, the Loch Ness, or mermaids.
Interviewer: So, what you're saying-
Maeve: Yes, I’m saying that there is truth to every myth, folklore, or religious story. (Maeve shrugs her shoulders) Not one religion is right or wrong. The essence of all stories about religion, gods, or monsters is essentially the same. They’re just told a little differently from one culture to the next.