Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Colorizing Characters

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by Starla Kaye
Let's say you've finished the first draft of your story. Now you are ready for the first read-through and starting your revisions. There are so many areas to review: plot, conflicts, settings, and characters. With each of those areas there are even more things to focus on. But, to me, the most important to concentrate on are the characters.

You can have an intricate plot filled with mysteries, an amazing adventure, or a beautiful love story. If the characters don't come to life for the reader, though, you take a chance of that reader never reading more than the first page or two. A reader (which I am one, as well as being a writer) wants to care about the hero and heroine. And she wants to care about each of them as individuals, plus she wants to pull for them as a couple if it is a romance.

Give the characters depth. This goes beyond giving the reader hints of what they look like, what kind of car they drive, how they prefer to dress, whether or not they have an accent, or where they live. All of those are useful in establishing a basis for the reader understanding a character. Yet they are still surface elements of characterization and not necessarily personalizing items.

Nothing brings a character to life like a hint or two of reality. Make them have habits or quirks that individualize them. I’m talking about little things that are reasonable to a reader and yet set a character apart from every other character in the story.

An important thing to remember about these character details is not to go overboard. This is part of that whole KISS idea: Keep It Simple Stupid. The following are some little ways to colorize your characters.

·        Always putting their keys in a particular spot at home - meaning when they have been put somewhere else they go nuts when they can't find them
·        Having a set routine while getting ready in the morning - meaning if they do one step out of order it throws them off and slows them down
·        Religiously checking refrigerator and pantry items to make sure they are within the expiration date...or never remembering to check the dates until it is too late
·        Always turning every light in the house off before leaving to conserve energy and save money...or never remembering to turn off lights
·        Eating the same thing every day for at least one meal…or always skipping a certain meal
·        Doing the dishes every day...or putting dishes into the dishwasher without running it until being ready to eat again and discovering there isn't anything clean to cook with or to eat on
·        Never remembering to fill the car up with gas until being forced to drive on fumes or run out...or constantly watching the gas gauge and never going below 3/4 of a tank
·        Using the passenger's side of the car’s floor as trash storage...or being almost anal about always having a small trash bag or container
·        Needing to sleep on a particular side of the bed…or not being able to fall asleep
·        Taking your share of the bed in the middle - meaning the other person has to make do sleeping on an edge of the mattress
·        Going through the morning newspaper first and cutting out something important to you - leaving the other person to try and figure out from the holes in the paper what is missing

People have a lot of habits or quirky things they do and a lot of the time they aren't aware of them. These are simply part of "who" they are. These can be the fun things about knowing someone. Or they can be things that really irritate someone else.

Of course there are far easier details that can give the reader ways to identify characters. He runs his hand through his hair whenever frustrated. She chews on her lower lip when nervous. Etc. I wanted to show you, as a writer, how to think beyond those easy traits, how to use what you observe about real people to add colors to your characters.

Did you recognize anything listed as something you do? Maybe see something your mate or a friend does? What other quirky things can you add to this list of everyday habits?

5 comments:

Z Minor said...

House is a mess because the person never puts anything away. Never can find anything.

Doesn't wash clothes until there is nothing left to wear.

Nothing in the house to eat because the person doesn't cook always goes out to eat.

Is a pack rat keeps everything.

Starla Kaye said...

Great additions to the list! So true.

Jessica Subject said...

Great advice, Starla! Yes, I recognize some of those things in myself and in the people I know. :)

Starla Kaye said...

Thanks, Jessica, for stopping by.

Barbara Elsborg said...

Yes, you're right, quirkyt habits really make characters come to life. My husband doesn't seem to realise that we have a dishwasher, yet it's been in the same spot for 20 years. He still puts everything in the sink! Drives me insane. Same for leaving the lights on all over the place when I'm careful to turn them off.