Friday, February 26, 2010

Writing different characters

Today is actually a writing post. Thanks to blog follower, Kaurie, for asking this question: how do you go about writing your different characters, and how it is different writing a man or a woman?

One of my favorite things besides world building is developing characters. I'm one of those writers who believe there is no hard and fast rule for what process you use to write or how you develop your stories/characters. The end result -- a good story with engagaing world and characters -- can be accomplished in many different ways.

When I develop my characters, I dig pretty deep. Whether it's notes on their background, personality, quirks, etc.. or learning about them as I write by the seat of my pants, I always have a good sense of who they are in my mind. If you think of your characters as real, dynamic people (or beings), writing about them comes pretty easily. Because, really, how boring would it be to write the same character type over and over again? When I write from one character to another, I find it refreshing to switch gears, to get into another mode. I look forward to this or else, like I said, it'd be a total snooze-fest.

Some characters I develop completely in my head. Some I make notes for. Some I have gone so far as to think of very detailed traits that highlight their individuality. For instance, it's not in the book, but Charlie thinks Wendy's square hamburger patties are unnatural. It's just NOT right! They should be round! :-) She'd declare this laughing, of course, because she knows it's funny and silly. But, digging deeper, there is a desire in her for order. She has a need to compartmentalize things, to put things in their place. In the world she lives in, she has to accept the unnatural, the crazy things she sees, does, and has to deal with... so this need for order in other ways shows itself, even in humorous ways.

On a real level, we'll use me. Every single time I go into a hotel room, one of the first things I do is untuck the sheets and blankets, walking all the way around the bed and pulling them out. I hate for my feet to feel pulled down by tucked-in blankets. It feels like I'm trapped. Now this could simply be a trait that makes me a little different, or if we dug deeper, we might learn why I don't want to be trapped, why I need to feel free, maybe something happened in my past that gave me this anxiety over feeling trapped. Sometimes it's simple, sometimes it's not. But every individual possesses the simple and the complicated.

Writing scenes with a male character -- now those, to me, are super fun. Let's take Hank, Charlie Madigan's siren partner from THE BETTER PART OF DARKNESS. I know him. I know what he looks like, how he thinks, what he does on his days off, what makes him laugh and what pisses him off. I know it takes a heck of a lot to rile him, and I know that the nonchalant manner he shows the world hides some pretty big issues concerning his past. Jumping back and forth between Hank and Charlie becomes seamless when the characters are that developed in my mind. But, it's really important to stay true to them, and by that I mean their responses and reactions. You might want them to say a certain thing or react a certain way, but you always have to ask yourself -- is that true to the character I have set up? Guys and girls, kids and adults, we'll all see things slightly different or vastly different. As writers we observe, we watch, we have a good sense of interactions and traits... and we have our own experiences with the opposite sex to draw upon, as well as what we learn, realize, and glean from sources, like TV, books, news, reasearch material, etc...

If your characters feel hard to write or lame or whatever, go back to the drawing board, work on developement. Get a better sense for the individuality for your characters. Remember that word. And stay true to it! How people look at friendship and love, for example, is not going to be identical. The meaning of those things are slightly (or hugely, depending) different for everyone. Even between siblings or spouses, these things won't be exact matches, therefore their reactions to things will be different. See? And then you have character traits, upbringing, experiences, desires, dreams -- all these things to set each character apart. All these thing to keep in mind as you develop and write.

Once you have all that, it should be pretty easy to switch back and forth -- no matter how you do your POVs and what tenses you write in.

In Charlie's stories, it's her POV (point of view) and hers only, but every character can still come alive through their actions, their reactions, and their dialogue. This is where they can stand out. Be different. If you see them as individuals and stay true to them as you write, writing different characters whether good or bad, male or female, should produce a really dynamic cast for your story.


Jackie said...

Okay so you know I am with Charlie the hamburger patties should be round not Square but they taste just as good that way at Wendy's so will cut them some slack. I love the fact that you are compelled just like myself, my husband and my Mom amongst who knows how many others to walk around that hotel bed and untuck those sheets and blankets. The first time I ever slept in a hotel was on my Honeymoon way back in 1981 and could not and do not still understand the tight tucking practice!

Kelly Hank is a good example because he is for 1 not human and 2 very strong totally male character, which you aced in my opinion. The partnership between the 2 of them is a wonderful relationship and you have created things not only in your head but on the written page that resonate with us readers and we all thank you for it very much.

jackie b central texas
(BTW reading my new Spider's Bite and it is cool.)

Mardel said...

Haha - watch, we're all going to post about how we like the bed covers (I liked your writing post, btw)

I did laugh when I read about you untucking the bedcovers. My husband and I have come to an understanding. His sid of the bed is tucked in, military straight and tight. Mine is untucked, from the foot of the bed alway the way to the top. I can't stand my feet covered unless it is freezing cold. Even then, I usually end up kickin covers off my feet, keeping only the sheet.

Unknown said...

Hmmm... I totally get this and am glad and grateful that you shared it with us. I'd written a character for a one-act play some years back and the director wanted him to cuss out a suspect. I said "no, Chuck's not much of a cusser." Hard drinking, tough Chicago street cop, yes. Need to prove he's tough by swearing a blue streak? No way.

Oh, and by the way... I'm with you on the "untuck" thing. I even used to undo the bottom zipper on my sleeping bag when we were in the field (in the Army).

Jude said...

Great advice! I'll keep this in mind as I dabble in my writing :)


P.P.S. I wrote about how much I love your book as my *very first* blog post ever!

K. said...

LOL. I'm glad to see I'm not alone with the tuck-untuck thing! :-)

K. said...

Hi Judith! Thanks for stopping by, and double thanks for the awesome book review post -- so glad to hear you liked the book! :D

And I *love* Hank, too. There'll be much more of him in the second book. ;-) Much. More....

Unknown said...

That is tremendously helpful.

how long did it take you from "conception" to completion? and did you have your story arc all three books out or did that come as your story filled?


and I'm an unpacker. I gotta unpack my stuff and settle in, if only for a night.