Monday, November 21, 2011

on character


The sass. The double leopard print. The stance. The stare.

My daughter already has more style at 5 than I do at 34, and I love it.

I've been thinking a lot about character lately. I think it's been missing in a few of my books. I fall in love with an idea, and I frantically bang out the book, and I revise, and I juggle drafts back and forth with beta readers and my agent. And one problem keeps coming up.

The characters aren't real enough.

It doesn't matter how much you like the story if you don't love the characters. It can be the best road trip in the world, but if the person driving is boring as hell, who wants to go?

So I've started really trying to think hard about making my characters real. It's not enough to have blond hair and brown eyes. I need to know if their fingernails are square or round, how they hold their fork, what they think about reality TV, when they learned that Santa wasn't real. They need to be as real as people.

Part of the struggle, I think, is that I have always been so scared about being liked. As a child, I found it hard to make friends. I didn't want to be too weird or too loud or too smart or too this or too that, because I was afraid someone wouldn't like that about me. Only recently have I been able to more fully accept my quirks... and my faults.

Characters have to be like that. An absence of traits doesn't make them more likable or inoffensive; it makes them bland, and the reader feels that lack, that place where the writer holds back. Characters have to have flaws, and they have to mess up. They have to be like us, like real people, a conglomeration of good and bad and strange and gross and annoying and funny. They have to have weird stories from when they were six and almost blinded themselves with a bullwhip.

There's a certain level of fearlessness involved, for the writer. You have to give up that fear that someone isn't going to like your character. Because guess what? No matter how great someone is, there's still someone out there that can't stand them. And the characters that I've loved best have been just as broken as the real people I love best.

So that's my assignment: Spend more time crafting characters with depth.

When I was younger, I thought I knew everything.

Now I'm pretty sure I don't know squat.

But that's part of my character, too.

*

6 comments:

Pinafores & Pinwheels said...
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Rachel said...

Stephen King has FANTASTIC character development - its practically half of the whole book The Stand.

Jamie said...

You are soooo right about character development - a story isn't great if the character's are dull - great post and wonderful goal!!

Anonymous said...

You should base a character on me. He'd have to be handsome and smart but unfocused and he'd have to luck into an awesome life with a great lady. You can call him "Captain Awesome." That sounds like a good name.

delilah, the unruly helpmeet said...

...and then Captain Awesome was eaten by a pack of bloodthirsty wiener dogs, and his lovely wife moved back to GA as the nanny for a fantastic writer friend, and they were besties forever. Amen.

Virginia Valerie said...

Hehe! your dialog with Anonymous (gee i wonder who that is) is great. :-) Also, love the Biscuit. She's very sophisticated. I do find that I love character driven TV. Star Trek is just a big soap opera in the sky - I don't care about the technobabble. I think this is a great goal, tho hopefully you won't let it get in the way of your plot development, which i know you are very good at and can do very quickly! :-)