Okay, just so everyone is aware, I am not pretending to be some sort of writing expert. I'm just sharing tips and tricks that work for me.
These posts I've been doing are from my writing blog and I wanted to share them with all of you!
One thing I struggled with early on in my writing is creating characters. Not just the act of making up a fictional person and giving them a name, but actually creating a living, breathing being on the page. I didn't realize there was a difference between the two until I actually got to college.
In my junior year I took a creative writing workshop and it was the best thing I could have ever done. We were allowed to focus on any piece of writing we wanted. We could focus on short stories, or work on projects we had already started. By this point I had already dragged out the first drafts and notes I had for Mordia.
I submitted a piece of writing that my peers would read and give me feedback on. The piece I submitted ended up being the first chapter of BLOOD
, more specifically the scene between sisters Isis and Lydia. The general consensuses from the group was that the sisters sounded exactly alike. It was hard for my peers to keep up with who was talking. My professor gave me some great advice which I still reflect on each time I'm writing dialogue:
Think about who your character is. What is their personality? Would he/she say what you just wrote?
Hey, it was great advice. Never said it was complicated. Sometimes simple is best.
After thinking about the sisters, I realized that Isis was more sensitive than Lydia and wouldn't refer to a baby as "it" or "that". She also wouldn't yell or scream. Just tweaking those minor changes in the dialogue made the scene more dynamic. It made it an actual argument between two sisters.
When I'm working on a character, I force myself to think of their life. Where were they born? Who were their parents? How were they raised? Would they run away from conflict? Or would they confront it head on with a grin and a casual "Screw you"? or any other curse word they prefer. Would they even swear? What words would they use? A distinguished business man would not use "gonna" in favor of "going to". A young, teenage boy most likely wouldn't say "I have got to go" when he can say "I gotta leave". These things matter.
Names and descriptions are good, but they can only get you so far. If your character has no personality, how do you expect your readers to connect with them? (I will take the highroad and not mention a not-too-bright teenage girl swooning over a sparkling stalker)
After that particular lesson, when I created a character, I began writing down their whole life story. I realized that if I didn't know where my character came from, I would not be able to tell where they would be going. If I didn't know that Mordia grew up being lied to by everyone she knew, how would I know that she wouldn't trust anyone? That she would question everything that was told to her?
Another reason to think about your characters is diversity.
As mentioned before, one of the issues with the early drafts of BLOOD
was that the characters sounded too similar. Let's face it, we all want to write the snarky, badass man or woman would doesn't care what anyone else thinks. Secretly, I feel like we all crave to be that person. To be able to come up with a witty line at the drop of a hat and a wide grin while the person who is getting on your nerves just sits there dumbstruck. Well, unless you're Joss Whedon, that's not really how it goes.
Yes, you can have a badass character, but there needs to be something more. In the first draft of BLOOD
, Celina was actually the more badass, "I-don't-give-a-crap" character and Mordia was sensitive, trusting and quiet. But, Celina had a son and Mordia was trained in combat by a powerful being. Neither of these things in their past was having an impact on who they were in the present. I realized that Mordia shouldn't be able to trust anyone. She was lied to her whole life. Her only friend and the love of her life died. Celina had a son. She had been alone for over 300 years before suddenly being responsible for another person. She did care about something. Shouldn't these things matter?
So, I rewrote their characters. Mordia became witty, but closed off and distrustful. Celina became toned down and softer; keeping her head down, fearful for her and her son's lives. Don't get me wrong, both women could still kick a fair amount of ass, thank you very much. But, that's not the main focus of their characters. That's not who they are.
However, there is one thing I think is necessary when creating a character. At least, it is for me.
Put some of yourself in your characters.
All of my characters, in some way or another, are a part of me. They are either reflections of myself, or people I know (you know who you are). Even the sick twisted ones have some sort of distorted, bastardized trait of mine.
A prime example would be Mordia.
I am not ashamed to admit that I am socially awkward. (Who isn't nowadays?) But, when I was writing Mordia, I consciously made the decision to give her the one flaw I struggle with constantly and can never seem to get right. Empathy. Don't get me wrong, I have no problem empathizing with people. I am a wibbly-wobbly, emotional mess and can cry at the drop of a hat. I just struggle to show it, meaning sometimes it comes across as me being cold. At least, that's what it feels like to me. Since it's something I struggle with, I made it Mordia's struggle too.
My goal is to have her overcome her flaw. Maybe I will overcome mine too by the end of book three.
My overall point is that you need to treat your characters like actual people. Because, in the world you are creating, they are people. They have pasts that have shaped who they are. Just because you may react a certain way to something, doesn't mean they will react the same way. You can't develop a God-complex when you're writing. You can't sit there and say "well I wanna write them saying this because I can", otherwise, it won't work.
You need to know your characters and you need to feel what they feel. Otherwise, the story won't be enough. If you can't connect with the character, how can you expect the reader to?