Yay fun imaginary people: Characters

So you tuned in for the next installment! Yay! So I actually wrote the next installment! Double yay! Eventually I might have a backlog of posts so when life eats me alive (don’t think to much about that last sentence too much, it will only confuse you farther) I won’t have to worry about typing up something brilliant, but for now I’m flying by the seat of my pants.

And yes, I’m like five sentences in and I’m already running on cliches. No one is more disappointed with myself than me at this point, so let’s ignore it and move on.

What will I enlighten (or confuse) everyone about today?

*dramatic music*

Why, my absolute favorite aspect of writing, of course!

CHARACTERS!!!!!!!!

I was going back through old stories of mine the other day, which is surprisingly hard since I didn’t start writing them down until after a year or so of taking writing SeriouslyTM. See also: the era of thinking I was the best writer ever to grace this earth.

Ya want to talk about how quickly that dream was dashed? Neither do I.

But I have an excellent memory (now what was I talking about again?) and I was able to recall a good deal of Grade A cringe material from when I was 11/12 or thereabouts. There are a lot of reasons I’m glad I’m not writing that lovely stuff anymore, but one of the biggest perks has got to be how much my characterization has improved.

“This introduction is getting a little long. Maybe you should skip to the point,” says the one last reasonable brain cell I have.

“Just roll with it,” says the brain cell that actually wants me to finish this post.

“WHO CARES IF THE POST MAKES NO SENSE I WANT TO TALK ABOUT MY CRINGEY CHARACTERS!!!!!!!” screams the brain cell that usually wins these kinds of arguments.

Back to characters. I had some doozies. Including that obligatory self insert MC who just happened to have the superpowers I really used to want, and the depth and intrigue of a piece of printer paper. Her parents were dead, she didn’t have any friends, and really could have been removed from the story altogether and the plot would have progressed just fine.

I remember creating that character, oblivious to the fact that someday I would be using her as an example of what not to do. I was so proud of her, but as I moved through the story, something started to feel off. Take a wild stab at what kept tripping me up.

No, you can’t actually stab me. Stop that!

The heart of my story wasn’t beating. The star of the show wasn’t twinkling.

We can cut the dramatics and admit I needed to work on my characterization skills.

Since then, (I hope) I’ve learned a thing or two. Humility is definitely one of the them. Let’s just say it’s a lesson God has been teaching me for an extraordinary amount of time.

It’s not nice to hoard information like a greedy knowledge dragon, so without farther ado, here’s a few things I wish I had known about characterization.

Also, Knowledge Dragon has a nice ring to it. If that’s what you want to call me from now on I would not complain. *very loud sigh from the last reasonable brain cell*

Profound Point of Profoundness Number 1: Characters first, not templates.

Let’s look at a typical cast of, say, an epic fantasy. We have our hero, our mentor, our looooove interest, a big baddie for them to fight, and a sidekick or two. There. Just fill those roles and your motley band of misfits will be galavanting around in no time. Or so I THOUGHT. But what do you do when the unthinkable happens: you create a character who doesn’t fit any of these? What???!!? I know, it sounds crazy, but that’s one of the best things that has ever happened in my own stories. It forced me to build a cast that matched my specific plot and ideas, not what I thought I needed to included or I would be a disgrace to the Empire. Don’t need a love interest? Don’t include one. Or, maybe midway through the story you start shipping two characters… let the fun begin! Put your children- uh, I mean characters together on their adventure and see who fills up which role best. Another handy thing about this method is thwarting cliches. When I think, mentor character, I get a mental image of an old dude with a legendary beard and a staff to whack disobedient apprentices on the head with. This would probably get labeled cliché. But, maybe my cast includes a twentysomething half-elf woman with a love for tea parties, who, upon farther investigation, is who the rest of the team would say is the mentor. There are still plenty of ways to be cliche, but a beard isn’t one of them.

Profound Point of Profoundness Number 2: character voice. 

Please don’t panic, this won’t be painful. I mean, maybe it will, but don’t panic anyway. I used to think that character voice meant one guy “talketh in this manner” and the other “kinda sounds like Tow Mater y’all.” But spelling is only half the battle, my friend. One of my favorite things to do is give characters idioms, slang, or figures of speech that are specifically “them.” Or maybe they mangle slang or don’t understand it or exclusively use slang from sixty years ago. The possibilities are endless.

It’s also important that not every character would say the same things in the same situation. “Duh,” you’re probably thinking, but stay with me. The question is not what they say. It’s why. *confused silence* A character’s dialogue is almost as much of a product of their backstory and personality as the character themselves. What they say, what they hold back, how open they are about their feelings, if they feel the need to point out every duck they see, all that fun stuff. I’ve observed that the better you know the character, the less faceboarding* will happen when writing their dialogue.

Profound Point of Profoundness Number 3: Put your characters in the driver’s seat of your plot. 

I like to lavish as much conflict and pain on my characters as possible. That being said, I often fall into the trap of doing this to them: “HA, now be crushed by THIS! Now be disheartened by THIS! Now hate me for THIS! AHAHAHA!!” Just dragging them from one plot point to the next while they just sit there like a soggy peanut butter and jelly sandwich. That’s just setting myself up for a not very compelling character.

A character audiences can root for has to make the hard decisions- and live with the consequences. Maybe they don’t have complete control over their situation, and, I mean, who does, but they shouldn’t just sit there. *pokes character with a stick* Do somethin’. Keep asking yourself, or them, depending on how cooperative they’re being, about their personal goals. Then go wild putting obstacles in their way until they all revolt and demand to revise the plot, of course, but that’s another topic altogether.

So, maybe that was mildly educational or something. I don’t know. It was pretty fun to write, so that’s a plus. Tell me what you think down in the comments (or don’t. Communicating through smoke signals is perfectly acceptable too), and I will see you next week!

*faceboarding: the act of using one’s face to type, usually resulting in  y6 t gtf45   Gvf4vbgftr5hj or the like. See also; headdesk, writer’s block.

8 thoughts on “Yay fun imaginary people: Characters

  1. Okay, you have made some GREAT points about characterization. And your style is FLIPPING HILARIOUS. “No one is more disappointed with myself than me at this point, so let’s ignore it and move on” is 5651615615% relatable. Keep up the amazingggg work!!
    Tess

    Liked by 1 person

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