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Saturday, July 13, 2013

Writing Extravaganza Post 2: Characters (of the Dynamic Variety)

Today we have another special treat! Elle Rose is visiting from her blog Rebel, Reading. I have asked her to write a little bit about how to write and create three dimensional, realistic, believable characters. She did an excellent job. I know for sure that I learned quite a bit. She gave me some thoughts and ideas that definitely helped me, and can help every one of you write about more dynamic characters from the time you finish the post. Without any further blabbing from me, [obligatory request for drum roll...] Elle Rose!

How to Make Dynamic Characters

If the novel you’re currently working on (or you just like this kind of thing) is in first-person – and that’s very often the case in YA – your whole story hinges on dynamic characters. They can be quite tricky to create, but ironically the most important thing of all is not to exercise too much control over them.

Take Kyla from Slated, by Teri Terry (my review here) – she’s intriguing and she’s intelligent. She lets the reader view the word through her eyes. That’s a very important thing about a character. They have to take the reader on a journey. Sure, you can have an unreliable narrator, but they should still tell the reader a story even if that story is not the truth. Readers want to be let in.

Relationships. This part is really important. Everyone in the world has hundreds, thousands of relationships. They can be fleeting ones – nodding hello to someone walking down the street – or lasting ones, like familial relationships. But just remember that no character should be entirely isolated. Even if they’re in solitary confinement in a prison cell they’re still going to be thinking about other people.

Also, this is not confined to the main character – otherwise you’re going to have a very flat story. Other characters all have to have their own motivations and desires. These will all act on each other to create a multi-dimensional, colourful story.Remember, if the story is first-person, everything is being seen through the eyes of the narrator. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the action is about that character. Presumably the protagonist is going to be very involved, but other people would see the story as being about themselves, so take note of that.

Give your character an arc. You can have the most interesting character in the world but if they don’t develop through the story, if they don’t experience the story, then they’re not going to be of any great import. You r characters have to be shaped by the experiences and then go on to shape the plot right back.

Here’s a point that I’ve struggled with a lot in the past. Voice.My current WIP has two rotating first-person narrators, and they’re siblings of a similar age. They’re also best friends and extremely closely bonded. So it was hard to separate their voices, because they sound so similar. And they should. These characters have differences which develop throughout the book as they meet new people and have new experiences, but they are still very similar in voice. And you know what? That’s okay. The other characters (who don’t narrate), we see through dialogue, and they have a different way of speaking. I don’t have strong accents in my world, so I don’t have to deal with those except in one character (because readers usually hate accents when reading – I know I do), but I make the other characters different in their own ways. My female main character’s best friend is superficial but has her heart in the right place. My male protagonist’s girlfriend is a sassy spitfire, probably the wittiest and funniest character in the book, and I love writing her scenes because she’s completely irreverent.

I see a lot of advice saying that you have to give your main characters particular hobbies. But it isn’t always as clear-cut as that. Not everyone likes basketball, or piano playing, or sailing exclusively. Most people have varying levels of interest in lots of different things and some don’t ever find their true passion. I think it’s great to have your protagonist find her*(or his) passion because of her growth throughout the story, because she’s found herself in the triumph. That’s what I did in my WIP. Her brother, the other main character, loves books and Magno racing. But she’s less defined. They’re both extremely intelligent, but she’s not as specifically interested in books as he is. And that’s alright. She finds her potential during the story arc. So don’t go in with a list of check boxes. I started out with just her full name, her date of birth, physical features and five words describing her personality. Not all of the words I had in my original formulating of ideas still stick, but the ones that do are the best ones. Believe me, the rest will come as you write.

Give them some priorities. One burning purpose each. You won’t have to go into the details of this purpose for anyone who’s not a main character, but it’s worth doing. For example, my female protagonist is quite aimless at the beginning of the story. Then a certain cataclysmic event occurs, and catapults her into action and a long journey where she has a strong purpose to fight for what’s right. Once she leaves, her brother, the male protagonist who is very close to her, starts a quest to find her. That’s his single-minded focus for the first full half of the book, until the spirited girl he meets spurs him into action of his own. His passion only intensifies, but he has strong priorities all along.

Here’s a point that’ll do wonders for the sanity of your readers: don’t have characters there (especially not your main character!) just to prove a point. I don’t care if you’re Christian/Scientologist/Rastafarian, unless I buy that book specifically from the religious writing genre I don’t want to hear about why you think your god is great.  It’s not just religion. Please don’t make your characters a thinly veiled shield for your personal agendas. Sure, you can use them to prove a point, but it has to come from them, not you. At some point your characters must leap off the page and be people. Not caricatures, not campaigns, people. And they will have wildly differing agendas themselves, if you’re writing them well. Also, they may not always behave as you expect them to. But if they become a little rebellious and aren’t fitting in with Your Divine Plan, since a writer is God of their own universe, be proud. You’ve created real, dynamic characters.  
Elle Rose is a ukulele-playing, word-loving bookworm who packs a ridiculous amount of things into her free time. She’s currently working on a science-fiction dystopian novel and maintaining two blogs: 
Rebel, Reading, where she reviews books and blogs about all things literary.
Student Bright Side, a fledgling blog where she talks about making the most of student life.
Follow her on her main blog’s official Twitter @rebelreading and/or her personal account, @ElleRoseRyan.

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