Monday, January 13, 2014

Who Are My Characters? By Myla Jackson

Originally posted in the TWRP Greenhouse

Who Are My Characters? By Myla Jackson

Before I begin a new story, I lay out all my characters so that I know what they look like,who they are and what makes them act the way they act. Let's take one step at a time...

 What do they look like?
 Hair color, style, length
 eye color
 Height
 body structure
 clothing style
 age
 skin (color and texture)
 scars (location & why)
 Sometimes it helps to cut out a picture from a magazine or print one from online of a person you picture as that character. That way you have a clear picture in your mind when you put the description into words.
 Where do they live?  Apartment  house  ranch  city  state  country  description of abode
 Who lives with him/her?
 Where a person lives tells a lot about that individual. Getting to know where they live and with whom, gives you more insight into your character. Does the woman have a roommate? Does the man still live with his mother? Does your heroine live in a homeless shelter?
 Does your hero live on a ranch?  

Getting to know the outside of your character is important, but more important to your story is what's on the inside. What makes them tick? Why do they behave the way they do? How do they react to different stimuli? One of the steps in getting to know your characters is a basic understanding of their goals, motivations and conflicts. A good book to have in your arsenal of writer's weapons is Debra Dixon's book Goal, Motivation & Conflict. If you get a chance to see her workshop, do it! It's worth every penny spent.
Here's my interpretation of what these three words stand for and how you find them in your characters:


What does he/she want? A lot of the time, a character believes he/she wants something at the beginning of the story only to find out by the end of the story, that's not what he/she wants anymore. This morphing-of-the-goals comes from character growth. What does he/she learn along the way? So when you start your story, identify what your character thinks he/she wants. Then identify what he/she really needs. For example, your hero might think he needs to be the richest man in town and in acquiring his wealth; he squashes everyone in his path. What he really needs is to move on and forgive.


Why does he/she want it? It's not good enough to know your character's goals. You have to dig deeper and understand why he wants what he wants. If your hero's goal is to be the richest man in town, why does he want this? Is it because he was born on the wrong side of the tracks and he's determined to punish everyone in town for turning their noses up at him when he was growing up. Or is it because the rich town mayor wouldn't let him marry his daughter and now he's out to prove he's good enough? Either way, the motivation will help you to understand why he thinks he needs what he wants. It will also help you to understand what he really needs.


Why can't he/she have it? A story without conflict is a boring story. Every reader wants to cheer the hero on. How can you do that if everything in his life is hunky-dory? He doesn't need a cheering section. The reader will get bored with him and go look for someone with real problems she can invest herself in. She wants a character that reflects the real world. How many people go through life trouble-free? Not many. We like to know others have problems and we cheer them on to overcome their issues so that they can triumph in the end. Think about the time you went to a football game and you were on the side of the winning team, but they were winning by such a longshot that you started cheering for the losing team. Give your characters conflicts!!!!!! If you love them enough, you'll torture them and hurt them and make them cry. How you do this is by creating conflicts that get in the way of them attaining their goals. Make it relevant by hitting them below the belt in their motivations. Hero thinks he needs to be the wealthiest man in town and squash everyone in his path. Put obstacles in his path. Make those obstacles matter. Make them show him how wrong he is to want to hurt others. By the end of the book, he will see that he no longer wants to be the richest man in town. He didn't know it, but he only ever wanted to belong. (Like in the Scrouge).

Get to know all your characters. Even your villain. The more you know them, the more you will discover ways to introduce them to your reader and show how they will grow and overcome their problems.


Reprinted with permission from