What makes a memorable character? Why are we so attracted to some characters versus others? How can I make my characters jump off the page and at the same time be someone with whom my readers identify?
These are some of the common questions writers of all stripes and experience levels wrestle with as we craft our stories. For those of us who are drawn to write literary fiction, these questions are paramount to the story process since the story must flow from the characterization itself. But even for those of us who write genre fiction, characterization is a necessary skill we must acquire (can anyone ever really master it?) in order to better connect with our readers. How many times have you read the review, or perhaps written it? “The characters were two dimensional. Everyone seemed to be the same and no one really jumped off the page.”
While I don’t pretend to have mastered any facet of characterization, I have noticed that the majority of my positive reviews have commented on my characters. One of my editors at Bethany House even went so far as to tell me, “You write characters like a woman.”
Yes, it was a compliment.
So, what I’d like to do is share with you three quick tips that I use to help me create characters that make an impact. This is by no means an exhaustive treatise on the subject, but I’m hopeful a few bullet points will give you a quick means of creating more three dimensional characters.
- Give every one of your major characters, and most of your secondary characters, a secret. This was so important to me when I wrote “The Staff and the Sword” series that I wrote it down and reminded myself of it repeatedly. My main character’s secret was the reason behind his drunkenness. The men around him were trying to keep their illegal hunt for the next king secret. Nearly every character in the series had a secret they were desperate to keep hidden and I made sure to put that secret in their character profile and read it often. By doing this I was able to write scenes that never lacked for motivation on the part of my characters. Their actions, just like people in real life, might have been incomprehensible for a while, but when the secret came out, all became clear. It’s a great tool and one I still use. After all, who among us doesn’t hold something secret in their past or in their heart.
- Assign your characters a face. I learned this one from a good friend of mine who happens to be a romance writer. She shared with me her penchant for using One Note to keep a catalog for all her characters and she usually based them on the currently most popular actors or actresses. I approached it a bit differently, using more ordinary-looking people, but the end result was the same. Every time I introduced a new character I would find their likeness. Search engines are great for this. I just type in the facial features I want and voila! Instant characters. Of course, many times I will use people I know. I don’t think I’ve written a book yet that didn’t have at least one of my sons in it.
- For my final tip, I’m going to suggest a piece of advice from Sol Stein, one of the foremost authorities on writing. Make your character want something. Then, make sure he or she doesn’t get it. I fell in love with this piece of advice the first time I heard it and when I took it and coupled it with number 1, above, I knew I’d found the means to create fully realized characters. For example, in “The Staff and the Sword,” my main character, Errol, desperately wants a drink. But why? Because the secret he holds within his heart is one he wants to keep hidden even from himself. More recently, in my new book “The Shock of Night,” Willet Dura is desperate to be free from his night-walks. Why? Because the circumstances under which they occur threaten to expose the broken nature of his mind.
So there you have it. I hope you will find these few tips useful and that they might lead you to deeper characterization for your stories.
Patrick W. Carr was born on an Air Force base in West Germany at the height of cold war tensions. He has been told this was not his fault. As an Air Force brat, he experienced a change in locale every three years until his father retired to Tennessee. Patrick saw more of the world on his own through a varied and somewhat eclectic education and work history. He graduated from Georgia Tech in 1984 and has worked as a draftsman at a nuclear plant, did design work for the Air Force, worked for a printing company, and consulted as an engineer. Patrick’s day gig for the last eight years has been teaching high school math in Nashville, TN. He currently makes his home in Nashville with his wonderfully patient wife, Mary, and four sons he thinks are amazing: Patrick, Connor, Daniel, and Ethan. Sometime in the future he would like to be a jazz pianist, and he wrestles with the complexity of improvisation on a daily basis. While Patrick enjoys reading about himself, he thinks writing about himself in the third person is kind of weird.
Giveaway- Patrick is giving away a physical copy of The Shock of Night to one winner within the continental US.
Choice of book is either Emissary by John Locke, or To Win Her Heart by Rebecca DeMarino.
a Rafflecopter giveaway