I suppose being an author and probably living with an author is an acquired taste, because some of us can be pretty eccentric. Some us hear voices in our heads, urging us to “tell my story, tell my story”, others of our ilk wander around with ink stained fingers and index cards jammed in our purses or our pockets. Or there’s a notebook full of scrawls in the nightstand drawer, or better yet, the glove compartment of the minivan. Point is, as a writer, you’ve got a lot of characters to handle and bring to life.
Like many writers, I didn’t spring full blown from the earth and write a best seller my first time sitting down in front of a keyboard or putting pencil to notebook paper. When I look back at some of the first stories, or half stories I penned, I cringe. The characters are flat, they speak in cliches and the whole situations in which they find themselves are overblown and simply ridiculous. Then, I read a few books on writing, a few more books on writing romance and a whole lot of articles and ebooks on writing erotic romance.
Some books I agreed with, others I frowned in confusion but sallied forth till the end. I took a lot of notes, and hung a lot of printed sheets, checklists and quotations to the bulletin board over my desk.
Out of this research jumble, I happened upon several articles and resources concerned with building characters. Before this, I had started with a plot, and manipulated my little stick figure characters through the plot with no thought as to WHY my people would do such things. Once I read these articles on building characters however, I suddenly understood the importance of not being earnest, but creating charcters that were PEOPLE before they were puppets in my stage play of life.
While that may sound crazy, let me be the first to say that it works so well for me that I can hear them hissing in my ear as I type, “I would NEVER do that, how dare you!!” And it helps, it works, sometimes it gets me over the writer’s block hump to look my character squarely in the eye and say, “Then tell me what you would do, please, I’m totally dying to know.”
How do I build my characters, you may ask? Well, I use a ten page interview sheet that asks them everyhthing from their hobbies, the car they drive to the email addresses they use. In addition, I also consult astrological signs – Is my character a Taurus, who likes nice things and little luxuries? Is my heroine an Aries who doesn’t listen to reason because she doesn’t like to be told what to do? Even if you don’t believe in astrology for whatever reason, reading the traits of each sign may help you build the personality of your character.
You might also use actors and/or the characters they play in certain movies. Is he a computer geek like Neo in The Matrix? Or how about an old cantankerous broad like Shirley MacLaine in Steel Magnolias? Taking a second look at these characters also helps me to puzzle together a character’s personality.
The next time you get stuck with building a character, ask him/her when his/her birthday is (just tell them you want to get them a present, they don’t have to know the real reason). I bet you can get some great traits added by giving them an astrology sign.