Sometimes we can be too quick to make assumptions or judgements about people and want to peg them as a specific type of person. A person I know always came across to me as self confident, assured and perhaps a little bossy and wanting to take charge. They came on so strong that I could feel myself shrinking inside. It can be hard to relate to someone when you feel intimidated by them. Or when they make you feel inadequate.
A change of circumstances meant we were thrown together more than I initially found comfortable. Surprise, surprise, I found a whole different person and that my initial reaction had been way off the mark. The person was nowhere near as confident and self assured and in control as I had thought. In fact they were quite vulnerable. Over a while now, I have loved getting to know this person and appreciate their numerous good qualities. When talking about this change of my attitude towards the person recently with a young woman I know who is wise beyond her years said this. ’ It’s often those who appear most confident and assured that need the most care and attention.’
In real life, it means taking time to get to know the person at a deeper level. It’s not that much different when creating characters. The more we come to understand them and their motivations for acting as they do, the more we are drawn to them or not. But think there is one big difference. I find it hard to continue reading a book where I don’t like the characters. It takes a very skilled author to convince me to read about people I don’t care about.
Mostly when I read I need to be emotionally connected in some way to the main characters. So that means when it comes to creating characters we have show that there is enough that is likable about them, so the reader will want to keep reading and will care what happens to them. This might mean showing them in a situation where a softer, more compassionate side of their character comes out or where they will stick up for something they believe in. If a character is opinionated, selfish and unfeeling about others why would we want to read about them? I certainly wouldn’t. Often it can be something that has happened in their background to make them the way we are. If so the reader needs to know, so they will understand and be able to hopefully associate.
In an old movie starring James Stewart, my husband and I were watching recently, as soon as it started and we saw the cast, we immediately picked out which ones would be the baddies. Why? Because they always are. It’s like someone has typecast them and they believe they can only play one role. We don’t want our characters to be typecast or one dimensional. We want them to stand out from the crowd. We want them to come across as fully fleshed out people, which is why motivation for a character's actions are so important.
Sometimes the easiest way to deal with that is to think how we would react if we were afraid, or in love or feeling guilty, or grieving - whatever the situation may be. Then give those responses to our character. But the trick is to make sure the characters are not clones of us. The character has to be different enough from us. I always try and make my characters as different from me as possible in appearance to start with and then add different characteristics. But human emotions are much the same. Just watch any half a dozen people in grief for example and you will find while some things are common, each person has their own way of dealing with grief. Some close up. They keep everything tight inside. They cut themselves off from people. Others open like a flower in bloom.
They like people around them sympathising, and talking about the loved one who is gone. Some cry and maybe even scream and be angry at God. Others find solace in quiet moments reflecting on their loved one. Just as there is no right or wrong way to grieve, there is no right or wrong way for a character to behave. We just need to ensure their words and actions are understandable and believable, even if at times they may seem to contradict each other. Let’s face it, as humans we often do that. Books about personality types and motivation can be helpful too, within reason. My suggestion is not to be confined by personality types because few people are just one type. So make your character a mixture and therefore more complex. Love to hear your thoughts on how you develop a character.
Dale writes fiction, poetry and children’s fiction. She has also written articles, bible studies and Sunday school lessons. More information about Dale can be found at www.daleharcombe.com or on her Write and Read with Dale blog http://www.livejournal.com/users/orangedale/