Friday, June 22, 2012

My Wig Is On Perfectly Crooked

Characters can make or break the success of a story.

Have you ever read a book or watched a movie where you absolutely despise one of the characters? What about the hero you just can’t bear to see lose or the underdog who’s backstory is so gut-wrenching that even if they committed murder you’d still love them?

Sure you have. We all have. But why? What makes those characters resonate with us?

A relatable, emotional connection was established by the writers and filmmakers. They were able to get you to invest yourself and stake claim in the character. And if this is done well, they will also get you to connect qualities from a character with someone in your world. It might be your mother or the dog you and your BFF used to dress up in dog clothes. Or maybe the babysitter you had when you were twelve. You might even see a bit of yourself. The possibilities are endless.

Uniqueness, an element that makes the character stand apart from others, was surely also used. Take Elizabeth from Pride and Prejudice. Her unique quality was her confidence and dogged opinions, which was only strengthened by the world she lived in where it was not popular to be an outspoken woman. A unique quality doesn’t have to be different in itself, just different to the other characters in your story.

Characters who make a story work are believable, flawed, and on some level emotionally jaded. Now, emotional jaded could be as simple as a character having a spider fall on her head as a young child while sleeping in a camp and developing a terrifying fear of the Arachnid. (Not that I ever experienced such an event.) Or it could travel the extremes of depression or anguish over a death, accident, or other traumatic and personal event.

The trick is to make the reader believe said character is haunted by his/her past, present, and possible future ~ whichever of these apply to your story.

How is that accomplished? Before you begin meshing the lives of your characters together in their here and now, give them – at varying degrees:
  • A PAST worth telling and exploring. Don’t be afraid to push boundaries here. But remember, this past should help motivate the character forward in their current story world. It should help force a change.

  • A FAÇADE worthy of description, both inwardly and outwardly. Paint a picture for the reader, but do it gradually throughout a few chapters. Nibbles always make the eater hungrier. Give them a meal, and they fill up quickly.

  • A CHARACTERISTIC different from any other character in your story. It can be subtle or in-your-face. Play with it. Honestly, this is one of my favorite things to do, while I write.

  • A CONFLICT that will NOT be cured within the pages of this particular story. It could be a Doritos fetish from one character that totally aggravates another character. Kind of silly, but workable, and it can add flavor to scenes.

Obviously most of this should be concentrated on your main characters, but developing secondary characters even a little can add depth to your main characters that you can use and bounce off of. And who knows, if you accomplish success with this first story you just might be asked to do a sequel. You’d have surface material on the secondary characters that you could develop more deeply.

So tip your characters’ wigs now and again. Change the color. Give them a hat of a different texture, unexpected. Make me want them to succeed or fail. If you accomplish this, either way, you’re story will be remembered. (Repost from my guest post on Misha's site. 05/12)

Hoped you enjoyed this Featherbrained Friday post! What do you have to add about the emotional connection between reader and character? 

30 comments:

  1. Great tips on developing your character. And I LOVED the title of your post. So creative.

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  2. I know! I loved the title of the post, too, Natalie! Sheri--these are great tips for developing characters. I think it's something a writer can do ahead of time or as the story unfolds, but either way, developing the character as a fully fleshed-out human is key to allowing the reader to connect.

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  3. Good tips! I probably don't focus on the characteristic aspect as much as I should. However the continuing conflict I have down pat.

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  4. Great advice! Every time I pick up a new book, I keep trying to pick apart what attracts me or repels me in a character. I just finished 'The Adventures of Huck Finn' (I know, I know, long overdue, but what can I say?), and I found myself absolutely despising Tom Sawyer. I think I'm going to make it a personal assignment to figure out what irritates me so much about his character. Offhand, I just feel like he's vain, self-centered, and has a serious case of an inflated ego. But you know what? He's still compelling, and I kept flipping pages. *That's* the sign of a well developed character. Love your blog!

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  5. Awesome advice. Characters are who readers build a relationship with. But I have been reading some travel books lately and those writers have a way of making the scene a character in itself.

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  6. Most times I have to force my characters to act in a way they shouldn't. As a mom, I want them to be good. :-) Then I remember being a kid and wanting to do things my own way--which provides the balance I need.

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  7. Ha ha, great image! Terrific tips on building interesting characters. I think Rowling's Severus Snape is an excellent example of this. I'm working real hard to develop my characters before I jump into the writing on my new WIP. I think it's so important to create 3D characters who the reader thinks he/she knows but who then do something unpredictable. Thanks for stopping by my blog!

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    1. Wow! Can't believe you just mentioned Rowling and referred to my post. You've just made my weekend. Thank you so much!!

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  8. Sheri -- my favorite characters to read AND write about are the ones with the crooked wigs! Whether it's a flaw they can't quite overcome, a secret conflict, or just pure unpredictability, that crookedness is what makes them so appealing!

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  9. Great points. The character is what I remember about a story. I either love them or dislike them a lot. One thing I do to help me develop my characters is a profile sheet where I learn about the character. Interviews are also fun to do and they sometimes tell you surpring things about themselves.

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  10. I love those characters that build a love/hate inside me. I keep wanting them to change while I know they're fundamentally flawed and can't. Great way to present how to develop your characters. And fun! Thanks.

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  11. Ah yes, good characters are the key. Personally, I love a rich background that is sprinkled throughout the story to pull us in and make us feel deeper for the character. Flaws are a must in my opinion. A flawed character is a beautiful one. Damon from the Vampire Diaries is one of the best I've ever come across.

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  12. A great post! Caring what happens to the character is what keeps me reading. =)

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  13. Great tips here. Characters make the story, and good characters make the story even better.

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  14. SA, these are superb tips. Could an unresolved conflict also be called a character flaw?

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    1. Hmmm...I'd characterize an unresolved conflict as an 'outer' element that affects or has affected the characters likes, dislikes, demeanor, and behaviors. I see a character flaw as internal; saying this, those outer elements can create a character flaw. ;D Make sense?

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    2. That should have read character's... My bad. lol

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  15. The tips you provide are so helpful but I have to admit, I love the picture :-)

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    1. Hahah...me too! It is kind of appropriate. lol

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  16. Great post! I always say I love my characters perfectly flawed. It's the little things that resonate best with me and make me care.

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  17. Those are some really great tips! I've printed this post out and stuck in my backpack! :)

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  18. Great tips! LOVE the title of this post...

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  19. I love the conflict that won't be cured! I've never thought of that before, and it's something I'm totally going to do in my next book.

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  20. This is a great list about what hooks us to characters.

    Have a great weekend.

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  21. The Facade-yes--a good reminder, and something that's not in every play book.

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  22. Excellent tips, Sheri! I especially love the one about facades. It's always so tricky to get an emotional connection and prolly what I struggle with most since I tend to get bogged down with plot.

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  23. What great tips, Sheri! I love me a good flawed character.

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  24. I think all these tips are great, and I hadn't really thought about some of them before. Thanks Sheri! :-)

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    1. You are so welcome! And thanks for stopping by.

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