Friday, August 10, 2012

Books & Writing: Creating Characters

Before I plunge into the next step of creating characters I need to crow a bit. 

Joy Takes Flight received a starred review from Libary Journal. Woo Hoo!

Okay. Got that out of my system.  : )  Now on to creating characters. By this time you probably have a pretty good idea of who your characters are so creating tags for them should be fun.

External tags.
Tags are characteristics that distinguish one person from another. They will help readers recognize the characters. They can be positive or negative. 

You definitely need these for your primary characters. The more deeply involved a character is in the telling of your story the more important are the tags. Those who come on stage and then leave . . . well only you can decide if they need a tag.

Types of tags

A name can be descriptive. In Steinbeck'sbook, The Wayward Bus there is a character called Pimples. It provides a good picture of a teen boy. We immediately get a visual when the name is used. 

Just a word about names. Be careful to use names that fit the time period and the place where your story unfolds.

Action/body movement. 
People don't hold still. They do things like drum their finger tips on a table or crack their knuckles, twirl their hair or chew their fingernails. Think about who your character is and make their little idiosyncrasies appropriate to the individual.

A person’s tone of voice, or the way they deliver their words should be distinctive. They may speak with a drawl or toss out words like rapid fire. Or speak without thought and always seem to say the wrong thing. My mother hums. Everyone knows she does it. One time she was in a public restroom at an antique show and went in to use the restroom. Another seller who knew her well walked into the restroom and my mother was humming while sitting on the toilet. The newcomer said, "Hi Elsa." She didn't need to see my mother to know it was her.  : )

A character's occupation can be a tag. Make sure it works with the plot of
your book. 
You also want to consider a person’s age, education, religious background, and
where they were raised. Again, make sure the background fits in with the plot.

The way a character looks or smells would be sensory. An example would be a man who wears a spicy, heavy cologne that arrives before he does. You'll always know who he is even before he comes on scene. Using my mother as an example once more--she wears White Shoulders perfume and if I were designing a character after her that character would use White Shoulders. You can know who the character is simply by this type of identifier. 

The way a character thinks can be a tag. It can be demonstrated through dialogue or the things they do or the way they react to circumstances. An example that comes to mind is my own home town. When my husband and I moved here more than thirty years ago, there were to primary groups of people--rednecks and hippies. There was a distinctive difference in the way they spoke and what they talked about. What they did for fun. How they dressed. Their views on life. Just close your eyes and picture the two types of people standing side by side--the differences are stark. A caution here, however. When using something like this be careful not to become cliched in a character's development. Be creative.

If you do a good job of using tags a reader should be able to identify who is speaking without you, the writer, having to tell them who it is.

Have fun!

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