Monday, April 13, 2015

Advice For Writers #32: Character Development Exercises

Today I want to talk about characters! Maybe give some advice and whatnot. =)
So, the way I see it there are three things every book needs: good writing, great plot, and phenomenal characters. In my opinion, as both a reader and writer, the characters are the most important part. No matter how awesome the plot, how great the writing, if I don't connect with the characters a book is ruined for me. Now, that's just my opinion but either way there is no denying that characters are damn important.

I have few exercises I guess you'd call them to help me with my character development. I hope some of these can help you but keep in mind I'm the kind of writer that likes to know quite a bit about my characters before I start writing. Not everyone is like that! A lot of these, I do after I've started writing, if I get stuck or when I'm revising and focusing more on character voice.

For Outlining. I always make a list when I'm outlining.

Think personality. Now, I hate trying to make a list for a character's personality because how can you do that? Sure you can try to use a few words to describe them but just saying, loner, art freak, that tells me the type of character he or she is but that doesn't capture the essence of my character, and it bugs me. I focus on smaller things, things that can show the kind of person the character is, gestures that show he's a loner but also kind of sweet. Let me try to give you an example.

- Seth was a loner and spent all his free time in the art room at the back of the school building.

- I'd never seen Seth hanging out with other classmates, he always seemed too consumed in his art, like he didn't even realize there were other people around.

Both sentences show the same thing, Seth is a loner who loves art, I think the second one sounds better. Now obviously this is a sentence that would be in a story, how does that help with outlining? It doesn't really, it just shows how I hate trying to write out a character's personality. I know it and I want to write down pieces of it so if I get stuck I can go back to it but I can't just write down loner and art freak. Instead, I'd put something simple like loves art, doesn't have a lot of friends, and then a bunch of smaller things. He hates tea, likes cooking, loves breakfast for dinner. Doesn't like looking at art. Hates museums. Doesn't realize it's weird to not have friends. Some things have nothing to do with his personality, some won't be mentioned in the book but it helps me have a clearer image of the character. 

Looking at voice:

Generally, mostly with multiple POV, I have one character that sounds like their self and the others who are copy cats. One thing I do is make a list of how they talk. Do they curse? Do they not curse? Do they talk in complete sentences? Voice is important and not just in POV characters, in side characters too, even when it's just dialogue you don't want everyone's dialogue to be the same. Maybe one character always talks in a monotone voice, show that through their dialogue.

When you get stuck.

I take a blank piece of paper and just write down everything I know about the character I am struggling to write. Recently this happened with the love interest in my current WIP, I couldn't figure out how to write him, how to bring him more fully into the story. I grabbed a blank piece of paper and wrote up his character, went through all his features and everything I knew about him, then I went back and wrote his backstory and then I understood him better and his character hasn't caused as many problems since!

Why Back Stories Are Important:

Even if you never mentioned that this side character comes from a family of acrobats and grew up in the circus, those facts still make that character who they are. Thinking back to their background and figuring out these little and big details helps build the character in your mind and comes out in small unperceivable ways when you're writing. 
This is my biggest piece of advice when it comes to writing better characters, know their backstory. Cole, the character I was talking about from my newest WIP, I knew details of his backstory - he has a single mom, a younger sister, has been best friends with my main character since they were four. I knew they used to get into trouble, knew a car crash that led to him never being able to play hockey again made him stop talking to the main character for three years, but I knew nothing about who he was before and after the accident, what they used to do when they were best friends. I wrote that all out and suddenly his character was a lot clearer.

That's it today feel free to leave questions, comments, your own advice, all down below! 

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