Since I always write with Night_mare pretty much every night, we invariably end up talking about writing. Not just whether a scene works or not but the deeper aspects of writing: does it feel real? What is their passion? What do they want? What are they scared of? Why would someone care about this character?
So when I thought of doing some joint blogs with her where we actually publish some of our thoughts, it shouldn’t surprise me that she even had a problem with my first sample prompt.
Me: You write amazingly unique and fascinating characters. Why don’t we have our first prompt be 3 ways to make your characters unique?
Her: Well, it isn’t being unique that is really important when it comes to characters. It’s the emotional connection you create between the character and the reader.
So of course she has to outclass me even at the planning stages of a blog. But! I will not give up! I can talk about character development too so here goes. You can see her take on the subject in her blog here and follow her Twitter here.
1) Make them real.
Sounds pretty stupid for making a character unique, right? But the truth can be stranger than fiction. When a character is unique, they are also real. For example, in Melissa Marr‘s Ink Exchange, the main character Leslie has a bit of an attitude. She’s strong, bold, and in your face. If she were to walk off the page and walk down the street, you’d pick her out in about two seconds. What makes her unique is not just the set of circumstances in which you find her in the book; you could take her right out of her modern-day fairy tale setting and still know how she would react at your local cafe.
For those who haven’t read this book (you should, if you like the darker fairy tales from ancient Ireland), Leslie has got some serious issues to go through. As such, she has decided to get a tattoo that will span the entire length of her back. She is picky about the design, enjoys the sensation of the needle in her back, and carefully takes care of the tattoo. She’s quirky and bitchy, impulsive and dark. When she runs into trouble with Irial, the King of the Dark Court, you don’t feel completely sorry for her. When she reclaims her identity, you cheer for her. She isn’t someone you completely like, but she is so earnest about wanting her freedom and fighting for her individuality, you want her to succeed in the end.
2) Focus on relationships.
Your characters don’t exist in a vacuum (at least, not usually). When they interact with someone, anyone, no matter how minor that secondary character is, figure out their relationship before you have them interact. Again, even if it’s just a two-minute conversation about the weather that your main character has with a taxi driver. Even if the taxi driver never shows up again. It is important to focus on the relationship because it is good practice to see what your character is like with different people. The character speaks differently to total strangers than her or she does with family members. A wonderful example of this is Lynn Flewelling‘s Nightrunner series. Seregil, an amazingly clever and sly jack of all trades acts as a spy, teaching young Alec the trade. Seregil always insists on playing the role completely, even with people who may not appear to have anything to do with the person they happen to be following at the time. Why? Because you never know who’s watching.
This brings up another point: if you don’t take the time to make even secondary characters have some sort of personality or past, you run the risk of creating a cardboard world for your main character. Conversations will be stilted, no matter how unique your character is, because the relationships and interactions won’t be real. Even if characters agree with each other, they do not have to agree in the same way or even in the same words.
3) There is no such thing as perfection.
When a story idea pops into my head, my initial response is to write it down quickly so as not to forget. A couple of years ago I stopped writing down ideas, usually too busy with other things to bother with it. What started happening was that the ideas that had initially taken shape as formless, vague ideas grew. I began daydreaming, shifting personalities, changing events, letting things play out to see what would happen. If after a month the idea had stayed in my head, I had a lot more to work with than I did before. Not only that, character flaws and plot holes tended to fill themselves in while I focused on other things.
Let me explain a little more about character flaws. When an idea first strikes me, the main character IS ALWAYS PERFECT. They can do no wrong. They are so vague in my head, I can see them overcoming any challenge, being more beautiful/handsome/talented/musical/flexible than anyone else. This is another reason I let things sizzle in my brain for a while. New challenges come to me as I think about the characters and as I think of them, the limitations I set for the characters solidify. Where I had thought my main character would be strong, I realize she is actually weak. That problem that seemed so easy to fix before becomes harder with the addition of just one challenge too much. Be okay with letting your character start out perfect – it’s a rough draft after all – but realize that there’s no fun in writing about someone who sighs dramatically and everything gets fixed.
So those are my three tips: make your characters real, focus on the relationships, and there is no such thing as perfection.