I am happy to post this very helpful article about characterization. Great insights, Lynn!
5 Tips for More Believable Characters
By D.L. Diener
Are your characters a little flat? Are they as interchangeable as sweet potatoes and yams? Are you stuck for new ways to add depth? Well, do I have good news for you. I’ve gleaned some tips from my own life that will help you to flesh out your boney characters in just a few bites.
(FYI- these are excellent procrastination tools, should you find yourself in need of some. “What are you doing, honey?” “Oh, just working on my characterization.”)
1. Read your Bible. Not for your own spiritual enrichment (actually yes, do that, too), but read it as material for your manuscript.
I learned this one with my current work-in-progress. I knew what topic I wanted to cover. I knew the setting, what genre I wanted it to be, and who some of the main characters were. But what I lacked was a grander scope. What was my main character’s motivation and what was going to both sustain her and propel her towards the finish?
I decided to meditate on the verse that had inspired the story every day that summer. Within a week, I was blown away. Suddenly, it wasn’t just the one verse that jumped out at me, but the whole chapter and pieces of the chapters around it. I finally knew how the story would play out. What my main character’s central angst was and what she craved and how she felt about God.
Since then, I always consult the Bible on any major writing project, as a resource.
2. Do you know what your main character’s Love Language is?
With much appreciation to Dr. Chapman and how he’s helped my family communicate, I’d like to suggest something a little strange.
In the last two novels I’ve read, I found myself thinking, “well, that’s because her love language is words or quality time, and his is acts of service or touch- of course they’re feeling misunderstood.” I’m analyzing characters in ways I’d only done with real humans before. Then I started wondering about my own characters.
Try this out for yourself. If Love Languages doesn’t appeal to you, try the Myers-Briggs test, or those silly Facebook quizzes (which Disney princess are you?). But answer them as your character. It’ll give you a much better idea of how your character will respond to things and how they’ll interact with the other characters in your book.
3. People Watching. I know you’ve heard this one before, so I’d like to expand it to People Interactions. You know conversations?
It’s time to be brave, break out of that introverted, shy writer thing, and do what your Momma didn’t tell you to do—go talk to strangers.
Perhaps you need a prop. I generally have my twin daughters with me and they provide me with many unexpected conversations.
But don’t just have the conversations to have a conversation. Notice their mannerisms, what they share or won’t share. What drew them to you or you to them? Are they there with another person? Family? Friend? Alien from the planet Tooba? You won’t get a full history (not generally) but you can imagine-in the details. Is this person you’ve met someone that your character would interact with? Would your character be the approached or the approach-ee?
4. Borrow from life.
This is your reminder to stop and smell the roses. Or watch how your three-year-old sits at the top of the stairs clutching her oversized Pooh Bear during a thunderstorm. Her damp curls sticking to her plump, tear-streaked cheeks. Does she suddenly become relieved of her fear, maybe even giggle, when you plop her on your lap to comfort her? Or is she truly upset and frightened by the storm?
We can imagine a lot of things as writers, but sometimes there is no faking what happens in real life. If you’re intentional about paying close attention- you’ll know when something is plausible in a story.
5. Read. Read. Read.
You’re not going to know what comes off as three-dimensional to a reader, unless you’ve read it. Analyze while you’re reading. What was it that made that moment so believable?
Do you remember your own first pangs of labor? Is that why that childbirth scene made you rub a hand across your belly? Do you remember the names that girl on the bus used to call you? Is that why that bullying scene made you queasy?
Start filing away those moments when you read. Highlight it in the book or scribble it on a piece of paper. Then when your character is running a few quarts low, you’ll have something to fill her up with.
These are just quick tips. It’s not meant to be exhaustive. There are loads of books that explain characterization far better than I can. Personally, I love the psychology behind characters, and even what that reveals about its author. But then, I minored in psychology. I’m hoping even if this hasn’t answered all your questions about creating full characters, that it has at least been enough to stir those creative juices again.
For further study on characterization, here are two of my favorite books on the subject:
Breathing Life Into Your Characters by Rachel Ballon
Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting Dynamic Characters and Effective Viewpoints (Write Great Fiction) by Nancy Kress
Thanks so much, Lynn. My favorite book on character writing is Getting into Character by Brandilyn Collins. And my favorite of Lynn’s tips is #1. I always have a Bible verse about the theme of the story, but have never thought about meditating on it each day to see what God teaches me about my character that I can share with my readers. Great idea!
How about you, dear reader, Do you have a favorite book on characterization to recommend? Which of Lynn’s tips do you like the best, or do you have one to add? Anyone with a US address who comments and leaves their contact info will be entered into this month’s book giveaway contest drawing on May 1st.
And I encourage everyone to check out Lynn’s very helpful and funny blog at www.dldiener.com