What makes a character a character?

May 15, 2008 at 4:05 pm | Posted in character, Meg, writing | 3 Comments

Characters are a fundamental piece of the story. In my opinion, you can have a great plot, one that captures the reader’s attention and makes them stay up until 3am, cramped on a loveseat with a full bladder, just so they can get to the happily ever after or resolution of the killer. However, if you don’t have great characters to get the reader to care about what happens, then you may lose them before the black moment.

I’ve teased my good friend, Kristan Higgins relentlessly that her latest book, Catch of the Day, angered me because it caused me to lose sleep on a weeknight. However, as much as I loved her plot, it was my investment in the characters that made me burn the midnight oil. I wanted the heroine to find love, to get over her crush on the town’s priest and discover where her heart would find happiness. She was my new best friend and I needed to make sure she was taken care of before I went to bed.

Another example of great character development comes from my fantastic critique group (hello ladies!) when Sherry posted a chapter with a incredible cliffhanger. An explosion occurred that put two characters in jeopardy. Everyone immediately reacted to the possible losses, but more so for the dog than the man. Was her male character unimportant, no, but she had written the dog as such an integral part of the hero’s life. We all knew that the hero would never be the same without the four-legged mutt. He needed to survive and we didn’t want to deal with the emotions that would surface for us if we’d have to mourn his loss.

I struggle with character development in my own story. I love my characters, hang out with them often and worry that what I see in them translates correctly on paper. Am I capturing their sense of humor, their strengths, their funny quirks? Do I show enough of their weaknesses or losses so everyone else understands their motivations without making them whiny or pathetic? They are real people and I want everyone to love them as I do.

So how can we create characters that people cry out for and want with them at the next office party? I’ve tried the character worksheets to 3-D my hero and heroine, but find I can’t get in touch with them that way (Bria has many of them posted in yesterday’s entry). Instead, I have to develop my characters as I write and edit them. A flaw in my writing method, maybe. Something I’m trying to overcome.

I am also trying to figure out what I love about the characters that stay with me. What draws me in so that I pull out the book while waiting to pick up my kids at school? What qualities in the heroine causes me to miss my favorite show? Perhaps knowing what works in other books, I will figure out how to make mine as captivating.

So I challenge you- think of a favorite character and tell us what you loved about him/her. What drew you in? What capture your attention? What made you fall in love with him/her (or caused you to loathe them if it’s a villain)? Let us know so we can all learn how to develop characters that make the world lose sleep!

P.S. Check out my follow women’s fiction writersexchange’s blog: Lynn Romaine at Ecosuspense. Her latest entry poses the important question of character vs. story- which do you remember most clearly? Please leave a comment for her!

Meg

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  1. “…….I love my characters, hang out with them often and worry that what I see in them translates correctly on paper. Am I capturing their sense of humor, their strengths, their funny quirks? Do I show enough of their weaknesses or losses so everyone else understands their motivations without making them whiny or pathetic? They are real people and I want everyone to love them as I do………”.

    I would think that to create a memorable character, you would think of someone you know, step into their shoes (or enter their mind) and become them, so now you’ll know what they would do and feel in the situations you concoct.

    In the exhilaration of being this person, you’ll have them saying and doing things which even THEY
    would be surprised at!!!

  2. Great post, Meg! I’m drawing a total blank in answer to your questions, though. Just sent my daughter off to school to be the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz and my nerves are frayed. LOL! She’s wondering why I am nervous–wait until she has to sit in an audience and watch her 12-year-old sing an a cappella solo. OY! Note to self: must stop to get some Depend Undergarments before the show…

    To me, though, characters drive a story, and there are so many fun ways to make them different and compelling. I’m like you, I discover things about them as I go and don’t feel that I have to know them inside out at the beginning. I like the process of getting to know them the same way my readers will.
    Marie

  3. I love this subject, especially as I’m reading (rereading for the fifth time) Sol Stein’s “On Writing”; specifically the chapter on “competing with God” or making characters. He lists a few ways to create brilliant people:
    1) Exaggeration – “Joyce weighed two tons naked” or comparison exaggeration – “Archie was Wilt Chamberlain tall”
    2) Characterize by an action – “she always stood sideways so people could see how thin she was.”
    3) “Inexperienced writers often describe the color or shape of eyes first to characterize – more efefcctive is how they use their eyes.”
    4) Avoid cliches – but psychologist says voice isi the most prominent male characteristic, while woman’s is her hair – suggestion is to use it negatively also.
    5) There are five ways to characterize:
    1) Through physical attributes, 2) Clothing or the manner of wearing clothing, 3) through psychological attributes and mannerisms, 4) through action and 5) in dialogue.

    I love Sol Stein!

    Judi (Lynn Romaine)
    http://www.ecosuspense.blogspot.com


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