I do a lot of reading on those writerly social networking sites. Most of the time it's an opportunity to share what I know and help others, but sometimes genius strikes while I'm reading.
I've been thinking a lot about characterization: what makes a character tick, what makes them interesting, and most imporantly, what makes them seem real.
A lot of the characters we see today in books are, how shall I say this, special in some way. Maybe they swim in the opposite direction of the flow, have unique features, or have some other way of standing out. Some of this can be good, but a lot of the time as a reader I'm left feeling unsatisfied. Why is the character so special or different? Obviously your main character has to have some kind of unique quality, but does it always have to be related to them?
This got me thinking. My WIP list carries four novels right now, each with massively different characters and styles. Two are YA, one is "literary" fiction, and one is experimental. Making my characters tick in these different worlds has been my focus, and regarding their personalities, most of my characters are startlingly average. So what makes a charcter real?
I read once that there are three ways you can show off your character: what they say (or appear as), what others say about them, and what they Do. I think this is the first step in creating that really awesome character. Most people in the real world are fairly average, so why are the protagonists in books (mostly YA) so special? Do they have to be? The short answer is no. Take, for a vague example a character in my book So Here We Are. Tess is a middle aged mother who's recently lost a teenage daughter. By all accounts she goes through a standard grieving process, however behind the scenes she has another coping strategy for dealing with her grief, which comes in the form of a relationship with one of her daughter's friends.
In the YA world specialness abounds. But there's an easy way to change it up and make them seem unique in other ways, specifically dealing with outside forces. Maybe Jane doesn't follow the popular kids in school. This alone is vague and leaves the reader wondering "Why?". But no follow-up can leave us with an undeveloped character. You could take the road most travelled and put into account her relationship with said clique in the past, but come on, how much thought did that take? Maybe Jane's mother had problems in her past with cliques and enforces upon her daughter a disdain for those people, and one day Jane befriends one and learns that people are people. Maybe Jane's older sister was bullied profusely and Jane wants to protect herself from going down the same road. Maybe Jane is afraid of getting to close to anyone due to a variety of reasons.
Taking the road less travelled can develop your characters in ways other than physical appearance or an attitude "outside the norm". The most important aspect of developing characters is to pay attention to the world and people around you. Watch the interactions between people, cliques, families, clubs, etc. The smallest details are what makes each person unique. Tap into them and watch your character grow into their own.
Originally Posted at: Streaming Unconscious