What’s Uniquely Characteristic About Your Characters?

May 22, 2013

Do your novel’s characters seem bland? A bit too average? Nothing setting them apart from anyone else you have walking around in your pages?

Want to work on that?  Here’s how.

The trick here (and for novices it is tricky) is to come at this problem backwards.

Don’t say to yourself, Humm, I need to make this gal or guy more quirky.  They just do the same old things everyone does. How can they be more I don’t know, better? This character needs more—umph!

Instead, work from what you know.

Don’t think of your characters at all yet. Just think of things you know about people.

What do you know about boys, girls, men, or women?

Not what we all know – that general stuff, those are just clichés that society knows about people.

I’m talking about what you’ve personally experienced in your life about boys, classmates, brothers, girls, cousins, men, nieces, women, or ex’s.

These are the bits of knowledge that bring your writing up a notch, and bring your characters to life.

The tricky part is that what you know is applied randomly.

So don’t ask yourself  What do I know about private investigators, or single dads, or bad boyfriends?

That’s coming at things head on.

We’re trying for tricky here – and what needs tricking is your preconceived notions of what you think you know about boys, classmates, brothers, girls, cousins, men, nieces, women, or ex’s.

For instance: I know that an old friend of mine, when he cooked, would talk to himself in a low voice all though the prep; lovingly narrating every move he made.

That quirk of self-talk in the kitchen is something unique that I can take from my actual life knowledge and use as a character’s quirk— in any of my novels. Luckily, it could be used differently on any PI, or a single dad, or a bad boyfriend character I write.

Drawing on character knowledge of this sort will work far better than those societal clichés we all assume we know about people. He is a silent type. She can be a harridan. Teens are disgruntled or sullen.

Those things are rather abstract. The act of self-talk in a character is a bit more concrete.

Now, if you feel you’re not a novice, perhaps you’re a 2nd Tier writer, there is even more you can do.

Ask yourself how this character’s quirk would differ from character to character? That is refining uniqueness for the needs of your story. It also exercises refinement of how you might use the character trait in your character.

How can it be applied on that investigator? How can it be switched up so that it’s nothing as how it would be used for a single dad, or a bad boyfriend? How can you do some serious writing to find what’s uniquely characteristic about your characters?

If all three of these characters are in your story, and you run this exercise for all three of them, one will work a lot better than the others and that is who you’ll give this quirky habit to.

To find that out you’ll need to put that found quirk into a unique circumstance or scene. It doesn’t have to do with your plot (though that’s good if it does); it is there to heighten your characters’ uniqueness so that the reader sees him as real.

Example:

Private investigatorhe’s contemplating going to AA and the self-talk he does waiting in his car while on a case is his way hearing what he’ll sound like if he ever gets up the courage to go to a meeting.

 Single dadHe’s outside the kid’s room, in the hallway, and overhears his two sons mimicking that self-talk Dad does and in a flash, realizes he’s doing okay by them after all, no matter what anyone says.

 Bad boyfriendHe’s there on the couch after a fight, doing that self-talk thing again. But this time your character hears him running baby names options, mixing them with his last name, then a hyphenated version of the FMC’s and his. For one moment in your story, this person is more than a clichéd version of all those other bad boyfriends.

Here’s the final tip of the day:

This is what the experts mean when they tell you that you need to write what you know.

My Call for Submissions for your 200 word excerpts is still open.

Click the link to find out about it.

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