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Thursday, July 8, 2010

Making Your Character Their Own Person

The key to making your character their own person is getting to know them. You must remove yourself from them. Don't think about what you would do, say, or how you would react. Instead get to know your character enough that they respond to the novel's situation in the way they would, not the way you would. Only then is the story about them, and not just a reflection of yourself. So many people~published authors even~tell me that each of their characters is a part of them. Sorry friends, that's lazy writing.

My characters aren't a reflection of me and certainly aren't pieces of me. They are more like people that I've come to know really, really well. It takes a lot of time and hard work to get to know your characters so well. By doing this though you will enrich the novel and make it more than just a reflection, you will make it three dimensional. Only then can it be really spectacular.

Everyone sees the world differently. Most people have a dominant sense, be it sight, taste, touch, smell, or hearing. This will affect your character's point of view and therefore the voice of the novel. Think of it this way, when you walk in a room what stands out to you?

*Sight~furniture placement, design, decoration, how many people, ect.
*Taste~thick pollen upon the air, coppery taste of blood, tangy fear on the back of your tongue
*Touch~rough fabric of a couch, soft carpet beneath your feet, a warm blanket wrapped around you
*Smell~gardenias on the mantel, perfume of a woman, cologne of a man, scent of hay
*Hearing~clanging dishes, the rhythmic swoosh of a broom, a dog barking, birds chirping

Chances are one of the senses is strongest for you and one will be strongest for your character. The strongest sense affects the way they see everything so it's important to know which is strongest for them. Of course you'll have to decide this but that's half the fun!

Check out this article by Writer's Digest on How To Enhance Your Character's POV for more great tips: http://www.writersdigest.com/article/using-perception-to-enhance-your-characters-pov/

20 comments:

  1. I love this post!

    It's true that getting to know a character takes a lot of time. I'm just really right now getting to know my characters and it will probably take another revision round to totally flesh them out.

    Thanks for the link! ;)

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  2. I've definitely been working on this! Thanks for the link!

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  3. Great post! He, it almost sounds like a disclaimer, doesn't it? "That character is nothing like me." :) I've said before that I use a lot of my theater background when writing. I do best with first person because I really get into character. It's fun! But maybe I'm weird. Er, don't answer that.

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  4. Good post, Heather. I popped over to the article and put it on favorites. I like to keep these at my fingertips, so I can refer to them.

    I happen to be a very visual person. I'll forget a name, but I'll know you by sight! However, if you have some great perfume -- or a guy has some wild cologne on, I'll remember it.

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  5. Great point Karen, revisions are great for adding depth and extra touches to your characters!

    You're welcome Kari!

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  6. I love that you use your theater background Lisa, that's a great idea! Sometimes the wierd ones are the brilliant ones. ;-)

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  7. Thanks Lorelei, I'm glad you found it so helpful. I'm a scent person, though visual is right up there too!

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  8. Great post, Heather! I am definitely a smell person. Scent is the first thing that hits me when I walk into a room. And, hmmmm, most of my characters pay attention to smell too. :) Maybe I could benefit from some character exercises!

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  9. Of course, no matter how good a job you do of making your character their own person there will always be at least one person who thinks that the character is autobiographical!

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  10. Yeah Samantha, another smell person! I noticed that my characters reacted to smell a lot too. The more I've worked on it though, the more individual they've become. And you know, it's kind of fun writing someone that is very different from myself.

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  11. So true Alissa, we can't get away from it. But by getting in better touch with our characters and fully developing them then each will be vastly different from the other!

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  12. I'm going to go back over my WIP and see what senses are most prominent for each of my characters. I have a feeling they're not as differentiated as they could be -- what a great tool for expanding characterizations and clarifying differences. Thank you.

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  13. Well said! I'm just in the middle of a workshop on this very topic. When done well, these extra levels of characterization make the reading so much more enjoyable! Who can forget Hannibal Lecter's "fava beans and a nice chianti"?

    I've also enjoyed experimenting with characters and people so unlike myself. How much more fun can you have than writing a character who gets to shoot off one-liners all the time? Or the one who uses phrases like "fixing to" or "hunkering down for"? Just plain fun to think about :-)

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  14. You're welcome Linda! I love using this tool it really helps make my characters individuals.

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  15. Thanks Portia. Great point about Hannibal. I would hope he's nothing like the author who wrote him. Making our characters individuals is part of the fun for me too!

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  16. I was honestly wondering how to build a character the other day ! Thanks so much for this post !

    ~Alison

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  17. You're welcome Alison. Thanks for stopping by!

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  18. I've been working on this too. Thanks for the links!

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  19. It's a great article (as you know, I've read the book it comes from). It shows that you don't have to describe a setting using all of the senses. When I plan a pov character, I decide which of the senses will be most predominant and use mostly them.

    I love your point about having your character react to a situation as they would react not as how you would react.

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  20. Thanks for the great link! And... excellent thoughts on creating an individual out of my POV character. I'm just getting ready to really dig in for the final rewrite, and will keep this in mind.

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