Giving Characters… Character
(This originally appeared as a guest post for Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers, a blog to “feed your need to read”. There, you can find book tours, reviews, give aways, and occasionally, guest bloggers, like me!)
One of the most entertaining parts of writing fiction is being able to invent new people out of thin air… As the author, I get to choose every single detail about them, from their hair color to their occupation to their family and upbringing. I’m mindful of having characters of different races, sexual orientations, having some that are parents, some who are single, young and old… My goal is always for the characters in my books to be as rich and varied as the world that we actually live in.
Since I write contemporary fiction, I also always want the people in my stories to feel sort of familiar to the reader. Of course, the characters may have occupations that are not quite main stream (like Meghan, the narrator for a hit television show in Hidden in the Writer’s Room, or Michael, a best-selling author in Photographed in the Writer’s Room), but I still want them to feel real to the reader.
In order to do that, I’ve developed a practice of creating “character boards.” [The one in the photo is a portable one I made for the love interest, Brice Linden, in my upcoming “Interviewed in the Writer’s Room”] All that really means is that for every character that I create, I make a sort of visual collage on poster board. It might have a dozen photographs of what the character looks like in my mind, pictures of what they might wear, the car they drive, things that they might travel with, the kind of home they might have… anything that helps me form a more complete picture of them in my mind. The goal of these character boards is to develop a complete backstory so that when I’m describing him or her, I am able to be consistent and specific. For my main characters, I may go even so far as to determine their Meyers Briggs personality type or their Enneagram number. It helps ensure that their reactions feel honest to the reader and in keeping with the character of the person they’ve come to understand.
After that, the real fun as a writer begins! The best part of creating new characters is, without question, giving myself license to invent the small bits of their personality that will not only humanize them and make them relatable, but also make them memorable.
The best way that I’ve found to do that is by adding quirks. I call it developing my character’s character.
Are they independent professionals who still text their mom every night before bed? Do they love sushi but hate seafood? Do they seem really driven and utterly serious, but secretly dress their dog in ridiculous outfits? Do they follow bloggers online, have a tattoo, or read insatiably? Do they forget to charge their phones or lose their keys? Does their immaculate apartment secretly have a closet full of halfway done projects and useless junk?
I’ll admit that not all of the details from my character boards or the quirks I want to give my characters will make it into the final draft of my books. They might be too obscure, too frivolous, or too tangential. But, I’ve found that the exercise of creating them, of fully knowing the people (oops, I mean, the characters!) I’ve created helps me to tell a more complete story. One of the greatest compliments I’ve ever gotten was on Instagram when a reader said that she wished that she could be friends with my characters in real life.
In love and laughter,