I Love Character Development
There’s something magically delicious about sinking my teeth into the development of a new character. Some writers use character sheets that lists every conceivable trait a character can possess. Others find it helpful to walk around the mall and snap pictures of people that resemble the people in their head.
ALERT: This one can be tricky. Be courteous when the policeman comes to haul you away. Just sayin’. Pinterest pinning may be preferable.
You’ve no doubt discovered lots of ways to spot and fine tune a character, but maybe you have the same conflict I have. The problem isn’t coming up with a character, it’s choosing the right one. I have a vast cast in my head knocking on my brain vying for my attention. Some are demanding. Those can be annoying. But doggone it, they are also some of the most intriguing. So, while I try to shove them to their proper place in queue, they manage to cut line which is why I’m finding that my stories are character driven. I’ve read that can be a good thing. I hope the people who wrote that down know what they are talking about.
My main characters in my upcoming book, Pocket Change–a cozy mystery–are strong-willed, funny, and faithful to their cause. Those are their nice qualities. They can also be quirky, pushy and a tad bizarre. The point is, my characters don’t arrive exclusively in one method. On rare occasion, they arrive full blown and ready to roll. But, more times than not, they arrive in seed form. I’m convinced God plants them because he has a great sense of humor and he likes to see what I can do with those seeds.
The Character Seed
We all get seedlings, but everyone tends their garden of characters differently. Some outline their characters and give them elaborate trellises. Me. Not so much. My way is more unconventional. I go to Wal-Mart. Lots of characters to choose from there. I browse junk shops for characters. While shoppers are scavenging for old, dusty treasures, I’m spying on their movements, their conversations, their appearances. People who shop for old stuff fascinate me. They’re not sure why they like an item, but they like the possible stories or memories that item holds. Personally, I think they are all closet writers, but what do I know? Regardless, I always leave any “junking” trip with a head full of ideas for my characters and, um, maybe a few less dollars in my purse. I think of it as an investment.
Outside My Back Door
I have another favorite place I shop for characters. My deck. Outside my back door is a wonderful neighborhood bursting with laughter, hope, and helpful, humble people who have experienced great joy and heartbreaking losses. When I look out, I don’t see houses, I see stories. I don’t feel the breeze as much as I feel the emotions that are riding its stream. I have a world (as you do) brimming with possible character conflicts, traits, and fundamental human behavior.
Giving Your Story Heft
Those things all take place in my right brain where it’s fun and colorful and where my imagination sees me as skinny. My left brain is a different story entirely. No pun intended. That part of my brain is rooted back in high school where my English teacher taught me the fundamentals of writing. Bless her heart for that! Because of her, my left brain in inundated with the Who, What, Where, When and Why components. Not only as I’m writing my plot line do these components pop up, but they also make squeaking noises while I’m in the character development mode. Anybody who has ever sat through a journalism class OR a creative writing course will recognize these as the backbone elements–those pivotal puzzle pieces that must be addressed before your story has heft.
Who, What, When, Where, Why…and How
Awhile back, I called a meeting of those backbone babies and demanded they help me beef up my characters. I used them as a foundation for each character I fleshed out. It worked. Now, when I build my characters, I want to know WHO influenced them. WHAT makes that character walk in her sleep or cry when she sees a child at play? WHEN was the moment in his/her life that defined him/her? When was the instant that was so profound it left my character reaching for God? WHERE was my character when he discovered he could make a decision, a good one, all by himself, and not question its integrity? WHY does this particular person have to tell this unique story? Then there’s the elusive sixth element…HOW. HOW will this character move my plot along? HOW will I use this person to convey God’s message, to help this story bloom?
So, There You Have It
Once you know those types of things about your character, you’ll know your character AND your story.
Nothing new. It’s the same information we’ve all heard for eons, with a few tweaks here and there, but, it’s those tweaks in our writing that give us characters that are quirky, bizarre, and hopefully, endearing and enduring. Speaking of which, I should get back to my characters. When I leave them alone too long they misbehave. I have to make certain my main character makes a good impression when she meets the handsome guy mowing the yard. I don’t have that fella fully developed yet.
I hear my deck calling. I think I’ll watch my husband mow the lawn. That should help me finish fleshing out that last character.
P.S. Share with us how you develop your characters. We’d love to know!
About Debbie Archer:
Debbie writes humorous fiction for both adult and middle grade audiences. While her work is often sprinkled with humor, her topics are candid and carry messages of healing. Two writers’ groups offer her firm direction and unlimited support. She holds a Master’s Degree in Library Science and a Bachelor’s in Elementary Education and has published in both fields. Her home is in a nestled-up part of Arkansas with her incredibly patient husband and a band of rescue animals. Professional afflictions include ALA, International Reading Association, Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, ACFW, Sisters in Crime, and Romance Writers of America.
Among her favorite authors are Christopher Paul Curtis, Kate DiCamillo, Melody Carlson, Christine Lynxwiler, Tara Johnson, Talya Tate Boerner, Karen Kingsbury, Sheila Turnage, Jan Karon, and of course Dr. Seuss.
Her compass verse is Philippians 4:8 “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.”
Feel free to visit her at www.debbiearcher.com