How do we as writers get our characters out of our heads and into the hearts of our readers? How do we take them from being an idea to believable people who walk, talk, and feel?
Every writer has his or her method. Today, I want to share a few of mine. Let’s start with eavesdropping.
My stories begin when characters appear out of nowhere and start talking. I get a “feel” for their personalities and the basic plot of the story as I follow them around in my mind. Sometimes, they even tell me their names.
True story: Recently, I was pondering the name of a child when my main character, the mother, began explaining herself to another character. “I had a choice. Protect myself, or protect Ethan.” Ethan. I liked it. It fit. With that comment, I also understood she was a strong woman. (Now if I can just figure out her name. 🙂 )
If you have an overactive imagination like I do, pay close attention to the scene playing in your head. Did your character reach for a cup of coffee or tea? How are they dressed? Where is the scene taking place? Observation will garner you a harvest of information.
Have you ever read a story or watched a movie where a character did something that you couldn’t believe? Pushing cardboard characters around on the page will only make our readers frustrated. Unlike caricatures, our character’s actions/reactions must be plausible. So, how can we know what a specific person will or will not do in a particular situation? We can’t. But we can get an idea and keep that idea plausible with a little research.
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is a personality test. It will give you an idea how your character will process information and how he will react to that information. Another test is the Big Five Personality Test. There is also a personality series by Molly Owens on this subject.
Knowing your character’s personality will also help you decide his/her reaction to emotional situations. An ESTP will not react or show emotions like an INFJ. For more on how to describe feelings check out The Emotion Thesaurus.
There are plenty of books to help with characterization. Recently I discovered a new one while shopping in Hobby Lobby. When my daughter asked about a book on the display case, I suggested she read it to learn her love language. Of course, I knew her language. Curious, she bought the book. Meanwhile, the “write” side of my brain leaped into overdrive. If a person can have a love language, why not a character? Would it work? Apparently so. While researching the idea, I came across an article on the subject. You can read it here.
Start with a list of questions. Don’t take the time to think. Give the first answer that pops in your mind. You’ll be surprised at how well you know your character.
I hope today’s suggestions will introduce you to a plethora of characters. Happy writing!
What method do you use to flesh out your characters? Leave me a comment and share your method with others.
Writing Prompt: Think of a character. Place her or him in a setting. What are they doing? How are they dressed? Create an action scene for them. How do they respond?