If you’re new to this series (welcome!), make sure to check out my first two posts: naming characters and character backstories. For those of you who are regular readers, welcome back! Let’s get started.
Imagine living in a world where everybody’s the same. Maybe people look different– different colors of hair, skin, eyes, you name it– but they all speak the same way, feel the same way, even think the same way. Kind of creepy, right?
Clarifying point: I will not be talking about Erudite mind control or Walking Dead-style zombification today. However, I’m going to be talking about a slightly different kind of zombie: the kind that happens when characters get a bit too off-settingly similar to one another.
Sure, your characters may look different from one another, but (and this is going to sound really melodramatic) it’s what’s inside that counts. Your reader won’t be seeing Character X’s long, flowing blonde locks and Character Y’s purple eyes. You can try and cement those ideas of their appearance in as much as you want to, but what the reader’s going to remember is not what they look like, but who they are beyond the picture you’ve presented.
Although picking a bunch of adjectives and cramming them inside the shell of a character may work for some of you (and my sincerest congratulations if you can do it that easily), I use a different, way more difficult, and time-consuming method to figure out who my characters are.
And it works, or at least it has so far.
The way I discover my characters’ personalities is through writing about them and thinking about them non-stop until I chip away at all the rocks and whatnot hiding the diamond that is my character. (Okay, that was really melodramatic). Maybe there are a few rough spots left, but the only ones I’ve found are the type that are easy enough to smooth out while editing.
The writing is hardly publishable, and I don’t even dream of trying to work it in to my WIP unless it’s a true work of art (a very rare occurrence). Most of mine are little scenes filled with painful prose and awkward transitions, and depending on the character, way too much drama.
But little by little, I figure out what fits and what doesn’t, what should stay and what should go. It takes a while, but I’m finally able to uncover the little gem of personality hidden inside my characters.
After that, there’s a whole process I go through as I write the actual piece, when little snippets of wisdom (relating to all kinds of character development, but especially personality-wise) randomly fly into my head and I write them down on the nearest acceptable surface. Most of that may happen in the shower, but that’s one fact I’m not confirming. I would like to hint, though, that talking to yourself while trying to do this is highly encouraged and has been proven to work very well (all outside research, of course, since I never do stuff like this).
Cramming adjectives into a shell, writing paragraphs of absolute trash, talking to yourself– whatever works best for you, do it. Personality is a huge part of who we are, just like it’s a huge part of who your character is. Don’t forget it.
I’ll be posting Part 4 of this series on Tuesday, but don’t miss my regular Friday and Sunday posts. See you later!