Tricks for Characterization
1. Do an interview. Everyone says this, but what do they really mean? Well, one thing you can do is Google "character interview questions" to find a list. Look at several, pick and choose, and compile your own set of questions. Read through them and answer in first person from the character's perspective. If your character happens to be a smart ass, this can be fun. Be prepared for answers you don't expect. Sometimes the questions won't really apply, or won't get to the heart of that character's issues. In that case, do a history. Open up a document and ask the character to tell you about his life. I find this to be particularly useful for understanding the motivation of "bad guys." Nobody's completely evil, and you'll be able to present the character more realistically if you understand why he feels justified in acting the way he does.
I know what you're thinking. Yeah, but those character questions are boring. Isn't there an easier way? As a matter of fact, there is.
2. Sometimes you might know one basic trait a character has, but you can't think of much beyond that. Scan your memory banks for people you know with this trait. What other characteristics do they have? It's much easier to steal a whole character directly from the flesh than to sit around ticking off attributes from a list. Worried that Aunt Suzie will recognize all her flaws in your book and take offense? Don't be. People tend to see themselves in a positive light and are much more likely to think they're your hero than your villain. Besides, you can always change the details. If she has long blond hair, drives a Lexus, and chews on her nails, give her a curly red 'do, a Ford Focus, and an obnoxious laugh. If that won't work, find a person who isn't as close to you. An old teacher or childhood neighbor.
3. If that still sounds too risky, you can use astrology or a personality test to flesh out your character. Start with that one trait you came up with and read through the characteristics of the Zodiac signs or the different "types" of the Myers-Briggs or enneagram systems to find a match. Now you have a list of other traits that tend to go along with the one you picked. You also have a catalog of the ways this personality manifests itself in the best case or worst case.
Below you'll find some links to get you started.
- Lisa Nowak
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Tip Tuesday #74
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Posted by Casey McCormick on Tuesday, February 01, 2011