Thursday, June 2, 2011

Pull Up A Chair With Mon: Characterize Your Characters

Let's Talk About: Characterizing Your Characters

I'm not a very faithful blogger, am I? But I hope when I do get time to blog you find the content worthwhile.

Today I'd like to give you a quick tip on characterization. I know-I know, everybody and his dog talks about characterization, but I'm hoping you find a gem in here somewhere.

Don't worry; I'm not going to suggest you spend hours interviewing your characters so you can "get to know them". I value my time—as I’m sure you do too—and can't stand anything that waste it. This is why I've never been able to bring myself to interview my characters. By the time I've filled out one of those arduous character profiles, I've lost the will to write! 

The way I see it, if I have a scene where I need to know my character’s favourite ice cream, or most embarrassing experience, she or he will tell me when I need the info. I'm happy to write on a need-to-know basis. As far as I'm concerned, any information I have on my character that isn't necessary for the reader to know can only mean I've got lots of padding available should I get lazy and decide to bore my reader with nonsense. 

But I hasten to add: this is my opinion!

I take my hat off to anyone who enjoys interviewing their characters and filling out 100 Qs questionnaires before putting finger to keyboard. If this is your way and you're happy with it...(I tip my hat).

However, if you are a busy author and recognize the need for effective writing tools, stick with me, I'll tell you how I characterize my characters.

Have you ever written a scene and your CPs point out that your POV character is behaving out of character? The reason is most likely you didn't take the time to give your character traits. Yes, character traits are an amazing way to ensure your character always stays in character.

Character traits are characteristics, which makes your character special. Things like habits, likes and dislikes, values, manners, personality, behaviour. For example a hero who is: daring, unpredictable, creative and a terrible timekeeper. Or a heroine who is responsible, work-orientated, guarded and generous.

I believe you only need a few things in your character profile to bring your character to life: 

Ø  Give your main characters three or four basic character traits. Having one subtext trait as well would add another dimension to your character.

Ø  Ensure your character has a GMC (Goal, Motivation, Conflict).

Ø  Make your character interesting by giving them a paradox to their personality. (ie the supermodel who is a gourmet cook. The tough footballer who has a marine biology degree). Paradoxes create fascinating characters that will continually surprise your readers. Give your characters a paradox if you want your characters to be unique and memorable.

Ø  Does your character have a secret he or she is hiding? Secrets can add depth to your story as well as your character and provide opportunities for subtext, suspense, and surprise.

Ø Give your character a flaw—nobody is perfect! Flaws make characters more human.

Ø  Is there something special about your character? This is the one thing that completely separates your character from every other character—even those with similar personalities.

Keep your characters in character by making sure you have them act and react in relation to their traits.

That's my handy tip for today.

Join me again soon when I'll be talking about subtext and subtext traits.

Character Profile Recap:

-Three or four traits
-Character Paradox
-What makes your character special

If this helped you, or you would like to share your own method for characterizing your characters, please leave a comment.

Thanks so much for stopping by.

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  1. Flaws are fun to give characters, not everyone is perfect(in the real world). I like to give my characters a facial flaw or a scar that may have happened in reality. So his nose isn't perfectly straight, and she has a chicken pox scar on her cheek, something minor, but also something that the reader could totally get...
    Nice blog,
    Create a great day,

  2. Love the paradox idea, Monique. Adds a unique twist. I don't interview my characters, but I do keep a chart as I go along. Keeps me from pulling my hair out trying to remember what the hero's mother's name is, that kind of thing. Great post.

    Dora Hiers
    Journey's End ~ White Rose Publishing

  3. Hey Monique,

    Great blog. Made me take a closer look at my characters' GMC. I just shot an e-mail to Christine (the only one so far who's made it through my whole book) to get her opinion.

    Thanks for letting us know about your blog.

    w/a Callie Hutton

  4. Good one, Neecy,

    But what about character flaws? :)

    Enjoy your day landscaping. What I would give to have you step over the pond and fix my garden for me!

    Monique x

  5. Hi, Dora,

    Thanks for dropping by. You gave me a great idea for a blog post about something I do to keep tract in Word! Stay tooned...

    Hugs x

  6. Hi Monique,
    First time to your blog, and I really enjoyed your entry. Good stuff. I make a collage to look at while I'm writing. I really don't know my characters until after the first draft, then I go back and add in all those interesting bits that set them apart.
    I love your suggestions about the 4 character traits, and the one out of place with the others.

  7. Hi, Colleen,

    Thanks for stopping by. I'm sure you won't have any problems with your characters :)

    Hugs x

  8. Monique, thanks for the straight to the point advice. You have a lovely website. I hope things get better for you soon.

  9. Hi, Mona!

    Lovely to see you.

    Thanks, thanks and thanks.

    We're getting there with God's help.

    Hugs x

  10. Hi, Lynne!

    So great to see you here! I love your Medical romances.

    I'm delighted you enjoyed the entry. You've motivated me to make more of an effort to blog often...well as often as I can :D

    Hugs x

  11. Hi Monique. This is great info. I admit I'm one of those who will interview my characters but usually only if I'm having a hard time nailing their character down. Usually I'm a panster all the way through. One of the first things I've taught myself is to listen to my characters. What are they telling me about who they are? Their special quirks are often one of the first things that they reveal to me... when I listen. I had one character who was a horsewoman. But when it came down to the hero not fulfilling his end of part of a construction project, he showed up to discover she'd taken the task on by herself in his absence. And surprisingly to him, she did a very good job of it!

  12. LOL I agree with you, Monique. If I need to know something about my characters, I let them react. The time spent interviewing them is much better spent (for me) in writing.

    Happy writing all!

  13. Hi, Calisa,

    Thanks for dropping by! I used to be a total pantser. Now I plot a little more.

    I've discovered the difference between a pantser and a plotter is the length of time an author takes before jumping on an idea and starting the novel.

    A pantser gets an idea and more or less jumps on it immediately, writing through the development process.

    A plotter lets the idea roll around for a while, making notes and decisions. Doing quite a bit of prewriting before committing to paper.

    The pantser/plotter (or best of both worlder)gets the idea and starts making a few pertinent notes--characters, GMC, story questions, character arc etc--then begins writing while still making decisions and discovering the story.

    I see you love the character who surprises. I do too.

    Hugs x


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