Friday, March 14, 2014

Building Character(s)

Basic (romance) Characters

No GMC today.  Instead, we'll take a look at characters before getting into the goals, motivation and conflict of our characters.

Let's face it, characters are what make a book. If you don't have strong characters---and I don't mean the kind that lift weights---your characters and your story will fall flat.  And so will you.

Characters can have many traits.
  • Physical: hair color, eye color, height, body type, etc.
  • Overall physical: Handsome, beautiful, plain, scarred, etc.
  • Occupation: Doctor, nurse, cowboy, spy, mother, secretary, CEO, business owner, cowgirl...
All of the above make up our basic idea of a character.  But a character isn't only what s/he looks like and does for a living.  A well-rounded character will have other character traits, just as we real people do.  These are what we call personality traits.

If you've ever taken a psychology course in school, you've learned about personality traits, those thing that make us who we are.  The term "strong characters" refers to the strong personality traits of a character.  No one wants to read about a one-dimensional character.  Even a walk-on character often has certain personality traits.  Sometimes that's why one book will branch off into a second book, a third book, or even a multi-book series.  In some books, a secondary character already has a story within the story, written as a subplot to the main plot.

Building a character means knowing a character even better than you know yourself.  Many times writers find a bit of themselves in their characters or perhaps the opposite of themselves.

If you're a new writer and don't understand about characters, there are tons of websites where you can learn about characters and personality traits.  If you're beyond the new writer stage and are struggling with creating a new character, those same websites and others can help you can jump-start your character.
  • The Myers & Briggs test can teach you about basic personalities and how they affect each of us.  In addition to the Myers & Brigss website, there are other websites you can visit for more information on it. is a good one, and there are many more.
  • The Enneagram Institute uses 9 different personalities.  You can take a test to try it out.
  • Books for writers, such as the one I mentioned last week by Tami D. Cowden, Caro LaFever, Sue Vider.  The Complete Writer's Guide to Heros & Heroines: Sixteen Master Archetypes has an interesting take on characters for an even different take on personalities.
  • Still a little confused?  You can download character sheets to get a handle on who and why your character is.
  • Don't stop there.  More information is available by doing a search online for fictional personality traits or character description in fiction.  Or think up your own!
The above could keep you busy for quite a long time.  Learn what you can, then think about it when you're working on your current or next story.  You don't have to be exact with your characters. You don't have to give your readers every, single detail about your character.  Be careful to show and not always tell who and why your character is who s/he is.  Sometimes a little pre-writing can help you get a grasp on your characters.  What does your character say?  What is your character thinking?  Is body language involved?  An excellent source for that is The Emotion Thesaurus (The Bookshelf Muse Descriptive Thesaurus Collection).  While that blog has moved to a new location, Writers Helping Writers, there is still a propensity of information about characters, especially how to show, not tell.  If you find either of these helpful, I advice getting the book at Amazon or B&N.

Choosing characters wisely is a huge part of what creates their goals, helps with understanding their motivations and builds their conflict.  And you thought writing was easy!  Most of the time it isn't difficult, but knowing the things that will help will put you on the road to stunning and memorable characters and their stories.

I'll be moving my topics to different days next week, so look for Writing Wednesday on...Wednesday next week.  Do opposites attract?  And just how opposite do they need to be?  Sort of a prerequisite to GMC. :)
The most important aspect of any story, to me, is character. ~ Nora Roberts

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