Have you ever wondered why books can seem like good friends? You feel sad when they are over, you miss the story, the characters, the setting…
I’m fairly convinced that books become friends when we relate intimately with the characters, and we relate to characters who are credible and believable, who are realistic.
I think there are two approaches to characters; the people who map it all out and know their characters inside and out, and those who view the writing process as a journey to get to know the characters in-depth. Since I’m not a successful writer, I don’t know if one way is better than the other, or if one is completely unfeasible, but I know I tend to discover my characters as I write. It makes it more enjoyable for me as the writer. I get to experience things similar to the way a reader does, learning unexpected bits about my characters as I go along. However, module four of this writing course focused on character development, and the authors of the course suggest strongly that you outline the basics of your characters, making sure every trait fits together to lead to the desired outcome. (Maybe I just like to let my characters run wild and see where they end up, regardless of the outcome [but they always end up where they are supposed to be, so there is that].)
But I can definitely see the benefits of mapping and developing characters before you set out to write. An immature outburst may seem fitting in the moment, but creates an unstable character when, in the next chapter, she is shown in a position of responsibility and maturity. This is avoided by knowing who she is before you start and being able to refer to your notes to answer the question, “what would she do in this situation?” When I start writing my story, I suppose we will see how wild characters can be when the author has a personality map before them.
To develop credible characters, the course authors suggest keeping notes on individuals you encounter each day, making notes of attitude, actions, habits, dress and speech patterns. These notes can give you ideas for developing characters. These also come in to play when you have to describe your character.
a description that is only physical is boring (usually) and only surface deep. Adding in mannerisms (a phrase they always use, a gesture of greeting or the way they respond to a specific situation or stimulus) makes the character more real, more than just a pair of blue eyes above a pointed nose that comes out in the back as an auburn ponytail.
Though I have not gone through my writing to critically assess anything I am learning in this course, I think I tend to be lacking in this area. I throw in a physical description and tend to move on and focus on emotion and the action of the story. I’ve never given a character a specific mannerism or thought about how their speech pattern might be different depending on their geographic location or socioeconomic position. I’m going to go out on a sturdy limb here and say my characters are probably underdeveloped. Maybe not a lot, in some instances, but there is always room for improvement.
I will be taking all this into account when I start writing this new story. Some of you may be interested in knowing that I plan to start April 1 (no, it’s not a joke). November is know for National Novel Writing Month (by some of us, anyway), and during the month of April, the same organization that sponsors NaNoWriMo does Camp NaNoWriMo. It’s a little more loose and lax, focusing on simply writing, instead of specifically chasing a full novel. I’ve wanted to do it for several years but never bothered. And while I’d really like to tackle some of the projects collecting digital dust on my hard drive, I also want to try out some of these new ideas and have a fresh start before returning to projects that need a lot of help and work before I really begin writing again (though I am determined that some of them will be finished, someday…). In the week or so left before I start this adventure, I might revisit some of my projects and work out planning or revising bits, so stay tuned for that, if you’re really interested.