Monday, October 5, 2009

Thoughts on Characters

Who does characters well? Extremely well? Sarah Dessen.

I have character envy when it comes to Sarah. Man, how I want to do characters that well.

Sometimes, a character comes to me fully formed and it's fabulous. The various characters in IT'S RAINING CUPCAKES came to me with their various quirks and interests pretty much as they showed up on the page. And then the way they all came together and gave me what I needed for the story - it was magical!

But more often than not, I have to figure out who a character is as I revise, revise, revise. And so, here I am.

I have this male character who needs to be sort of mysterious for awhile. And yet, I want something that makes you feel like you know him a little bit when he shows up. But how?

I know he's had a rough life. And so, I have to think about how that may come through in those first pages where we meet him. I also know there are things about him that will surprise a person - interests you wouldn't expect.

Anyway, my job this week is to get to know this guy better. Figure him out. Then rewrite him on the pages so he isn't just any guy, he's THIS particular guy, and he's interesting and he's someone you'd like to spend more time with.

Sounds easy, right?



  1. I can relate. My characters become so real to me they drive me crazy. But while some tell me everything I would ever want to know about them (and tons of stuff I'd rather not know) others are all shy and mysterious and impossible to understand. (One of my girls is particularly difficult. I'm still not sure if I have her down).

    One exercise that helps me is figuring out what music they would listen to and then pulling details on their character from the lyrics. (The downside: I have to listen to a lot of music that I don't like). Or I try to throw them into a really weird situation (like...I don't know...getting trapped in a cave with another character) and write the scene as it plays out. It's not something I'll use for my book, but I've learned a lot about my characters that way.

    But it's hard. The only consolation: it usually takes only one key detail to get to the "Ah Ha!" moment, and then everything else falls into place. Like one of my girls finally made sense when I realized she was only shy around girls. I was writing her as shy around everyone, and she just wasn't making sense. The moment I realized she was boy crazy and a total flirt (thus explaining why she clammed up around girls--her competition) she came to life. Now her scenes almost write themselves.

  2. Shannon - great suggestions, thanks so much!!