Someone asked me to talk about characters, and ARE Y’ALL IN FOR A RIDE!
Characters are my favorite. I love them to pieces. My precious babies.
All in all, this discussion is going to be pretty legit. 🙂
Since I actually needed to create topics of discussion on characters instead of going into rants and raves over why I love them so much, I took some questions that people asked me as well as some topics I was requested to write about. Here are the topics we’ll be discussing in today’s post: Character Development, Keeping Character Voices Distinct, How to Manage Multiple/Differing Point of Views.
I actually went into some detail on how I work on character development in my post on my pre-writing process. However, since that was in a previous post, I will go ahead and recap here.
I tend to work on most of my character development before I actually start writing. I’m a very character-driven author (meaning my plots tend to have something to do with the characters inner emotions and I have a very strong cast to narrate my story), and I like to have an idea of how my characters think, feel, and behave before I officially start to write.
There are numerous ways an author can go about character development, such as Character Lounges and Character Chats, which I go into more detail about in my pre-writing process blog post. However, my favorite way to go about character development is through character interviews. In essence, it’s a list of questions someone (or even you!) have designed to “ask” your character. You simply go through the list and jot down answers to the questions you like, and your character starts to flesh themselves out that way. I have used multiple different character sheets before – one taken from a writing forum I was a part of in high school and another that my sister-in-law gifted me – but my favorite by far is here.
When you see the length of the character questionnaire in the link I posted, don’t freak out! I don’t answer every single question on that list. It would take me far too long, and in all honesty, I would probably get bored since I feel like some of the questions don’t relate too much to my story. I just go through each category and answer the questions that I feel will benefit my story and my knowledge of my characters the best.
Answering character questionnaires isn’t for everyone, but I would highly recommend it. You can find out a lot about your characters that you might not have known otherwise. 🙂
Before we move on, I’d also like to take a minute discussing the MBTI personality test. I do like to type my characters using the MBTI test available online, but I only do so after I’ve written the first draft of the story; more often, I only do so after I’ve edited the first draft. The unfortunate thing about MBTI is that people treat them like labels. “Oh, I’m an INFJ, so I need to change my likes, dislikes, behaviors, whatever, to fit my type.” This is the wrong mindset when it comes to MBTI. Thus, instead of typing them right off the bat and forcing my characters to be cookie-cutter stereotypes, I type them after I’ve gotten a full feel for their personalities. Characters should read and behave and think and feel like people, not labels. Keep that in mind if you’re using MBTI for your own writing.
Keeping Character Voices Distinct
Complete transparency here: I still struggle with this. I honestly don’t believe there’s a writer alive that doesn’t struggle with this, in some way or another. The only way you can get better at keeping character voices distinct is by writing. Practicing. It’s the same way you get better at playing the piano or riding a bike. You’ll still struggle with it, and there will always be new obstacles to overcome, but practice helps you to get better.
That being said, I’ll try to explain how I keep my characters distinct. This method might not work for you, and that’s okay. Figure out your own method.
Keeping my character voices (their personalities, etc) distinct goes hand and hand with my character development process. When I go through and answer a list of questions for each character, thinking deeply and answering in detail questions about their individual goals, aspirations, dreams, mannerisms and habits, etc, it helps me to create a unique voice for reach character. Let me use an example from my fantasy duology.
Vivianna is one of six main characters in my upcoming duology. I knew I wanted her to be really invested in her family, but I needed more depth than that. By going through and answering questions, and also by knowing my overarching plot and details about my story world, I was able to discover that she’s introverted. She looks up to her mom a lot. A family betrayal or a huge family argument would probably crush her. Her dream is to get married, so she thinks, because in her society, she’s past the age that women tend to wed, and that puts a huge damper on her self-confidence and self-love. From there, I’m able to discern that one of the themes I want to touch on for Viv personally in this story is that she doesn’t need a man to make her feel worthy of love and confidence. I could go on and on about Vivianna all day, but I hope you can see the point I’m trying to make.
This is just another reason why I highly suggest going through and answering some questions in a character questionnaire. You can get deep and gritty real fast; and deep and gritty is what helps makes characters feel real and distinct.
How to Manage Multiple Points of View
This is another great topic that doesn’t have one singular or correct answer. Every writer goes about this in their own way, so I can really only share how I do it in my writing. Again, I’d also like to mention that this is also something that I still struggle with, and that many authors struggle with. If you’re still struggling with it, don’t beat yourself up. <3
This, again, goes hand and hand with my character development process and keeping character voices distinct. Once I know individual things about each of the characters (and once my plot is outlined and everything, of course), I’ll begin writing. Normally with writing the first draft, I’ll just let myself experiment a bit. If you experiment, you’ll find out more things about the characters that you wouldn’t have otherwise. For example, using my fantasy duology again, I discovered while writing that when Vivianna is nervous or upset about something, she has to play with her hair. She’ll twirl it around her fingers, tug on it, braid it and un-braid it, etc. This gave her her own “thing” so to speak, that I then was able to use to help characterize her personality and her point of view in future chapters. Sometimes while experimenting, the character I’m writing will use a phrase that I end up liking. That then will become said character’s catch phrase. While writing, I’ll decide which characters are more prone to cursing and which ones aren’t. This also helps add a level of depth to the story, because I don’t think it’s super realistic to have all the characters curse if it’s not in their nature to, but I also don’t believe it’s realistic for none of the characters to curse when a few of them probably wouldn’t hesitate to.
It’s always a good idea to give your characters individual goals and dreams. Sure, they may have the one same overarching goal in the story (save the princess, get to New York City, go to the beach, have a picnic, whatever), but they all need to stay individual. Using Smoke and Mirrors as an example this time, all of my characters want to get into New York City, the safe haven in my dystopian world. While that’s the overarching goal, they all want to get there for their own reasons. Making sure your characters have individual reasons as well as the one main story reason/goal is vital to helping your characters stand out and look more realistic.
All of this will help you manage multiple point of views, because if your characters are individual enough, their narratives won’t sound the same. They’ll all sound different and unique, and you’ll have a successful cast of multiple point of view characters on hand.
I’d also like to add that sometimes the individuality of your characters doesn’t shine all the way through until your second draft, after you’ve edited and polished things up a bit. Nine times out of ten, the second draft is really where I get my handle on my characters’ individuality and making them unique enough to sound different. This is okay. I’m lucky to nail it down in the second draft. Some authors aren’t able to until the third or fourth drafts, after intense and long editing sessions. That’s perfectly alright too.
I hope this blog post has helped explain the way I go about things in a little more detail, and I hope that it’s helped you at least a little bit when it comes to your own writing. If nothing else, there are a few final thoughts or tips I would love for you to take from this blog post:
- Please, please, please consider using character questionnaires, or explore character chats and character lounges in more detail. These exercises really help you figure out your characters’ personalities in more depth and detail than you might think to go into on your own.
- Give your characters individuality through their personal goals, thoughts, dreams, behaviors, catch phrases, etc. This will help you keep your character voices distinct while also managing multiple points of view without them sounding monotonous or the same.
- Remember that authors all over still struggle with the things we’ve discussed. Don’t give yourself a hard time if you’ve been writing for a while, or if you’re just starting out, and you’re struggling with it. Just keep practicing!
Is there anything you’d like to add? What are your methods for fleshing out characters?