Three: Characters 101A Lesson by Meredith Greene
Once you know what you wish to write about, how it will be laid out and from which perspective 'twill be penned, you need to focus on the WHO of the story: the characters, the Main Character(s) in particular. I’ve learned to bear in mind one phrase while writing my book folks: keep it simple & keep it real. Characters follow along with the ‘write what you know’ lesson of yore. The elusive hint of realism hovers as the Grand Prize in any marathon of prose-creation; if you are writing about humans then basing your book-folks off people that you know well--whether you like or dislike said people--infuses your characters with human traits.
Here are some important things to consider while forming your character’s personality:
1. Avoid the alluring realm of Perfect. No one wants to read about flawless people who have all the looks, wealth and talent of the Mount Olympus deities and as a result never encounter any difficulties/disappointments in their lives. Give your characters human flaws, human habits and human problems, though not too many of them (see section four on Action). For instance, while some of the characters in my books may be physically attractive (some are not) they have annoying traits like stubbornness, they sometimes jump to conclusions, make bad decisions or even possess nervous habits like nail-biting; try to include a fallacy in your character which is shared by many humans in many cultures, such as ‘insecurity’. One can even write about 'ugly' or plain characters and pull it off resoundingly, such as in C. S. Forester's The African Queen.
2. If your characters have flaws, then use them. Most folks on this planet feel disappointment, have arguments, stumble over a social faux pas and make stupid decisions, once in awhile. Most humans also usually learn from their mistakes, sometimes take advice and grow in maturity over a period of time.
3. Avoid the incredibly-cliched character whose thought process is riddled with Indecision. The number one over-used plot is The Love Triangle; this device dogs the heels of the indecision-prone character like a gray wraith of unhappiness. Again, avoid this by modeling your main after a real person, and have them act accordingly. Most thinking humans can and do make informed decisions each and every day... indeed, this feat is accomplished repeatedly throughout the waking hours.
4. Avoid the dominant use of slang. Some minor characters might use slang or a few cultural colloquialisms BUT doing so predominately in the prose ‘dates’ your book and substantially limits your audience. For example, in twenty years readers may not 'get' the significance of the text abbreviation OMG, let alone understand its application to your character's dialog. If you see a bit of slang in your character's speech, or in the narrative, try to think of how the sentence would look in the eyes someone outside your own circle, age group... or for a greater challenge, try viewing the prose from the perspective of a foreigner.
5. Keep it simple: don’t over-describe your characters appearance; if possible, try to accomplish descriptions through the eyes of the other characters. It is very easy to say ‘too much’ about clothes, belongings or one’s home. Once you have described the character, avoid repeating said descriptions over and over again; the audience is intelligent enough to remember what they look like.
Recommended 'Character Development' Reading List:
The African Queen (C. S. Forester), My Family & Other Animals (Gerald Durrell), Mrs. Mike (B & N Freedman), Pride & Prejudice (Austen), The Horatio Hornblower Series (Forester again), The Testament (Grisham), The Legacy (Nevil Shute), A Tale of Two Cities (Dickens), The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (Doyle) & The Count of Monte Cristo (A. Dumas).
Read the above, and learn character-writing skills from some of the best authors in history.
Added on August 5, 2011
Last Updated on August 6, 2011
AboutAuthor, columnist, freelance writer, book reviewer & poet. I review non-fiction books for The San Francisco Book Review & The Sacramento Book Review publications. Read my free course Top Ten Ti..