Writing is hard.
There are some days I feel like my buddy Nick Miller and I want to break things.
So. To help you all out because I’m so nice, I’m starting a series which will (hopefully) give you some writing tips and advice.
PSA: I am nowhere near a professional, so these are just things I have found helpful.
**You’re basically getting advice from Eric Matthews.**
Creating Your Character
Characters are the most vital part of a story. Think about it – what novels do remember really enjoying, really falling into? Exactly – the ones with well-developed, three-dimensional characters. Chances are those books had characters that were so well-written that you felt like they were real people. You had a connection with them.
I recently finished reading Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas (you can read my review here), and I also read a book titled The Mystery of St. Arondight’s by S. M. Porter. Both books had elements I love – magic, knights, mysteries, twists, action, and a smidge of romance. But one was more memorable than the other.
*ding-ding-ding* Empire of Storms!
(okay, I’m obviously obsessed with the Throne of Glass series, but that’s not the point)
Maas creates characters that are complex. They have hopes and desires. They have strengths and weaknesses, vulnerabilities. Even though they live in a magic realm, their emotions and reactions are so “us” that we truly get to know them.
Porter’s characters weren’t bad. They were just kind of flat. Her characters did things and had emotions, but they were just kinda there. They did things anyone would do and felt emotions anyone would feel.
Here’s an example in case you’re having a hard time picking up what I’m throwing down:
You know when you go to the mall and you see a sweatshirt and you’re like, “So and so would totally love that!” And you know it’s perfect for one of your friends. BECAUSE YOU KNOW YOUR FRIENDS. You know their interests and what they like, but you also know what choices they would make.
That’s what it should be like when you read good characters! You see them make a choice or react in a certain why, and you’re like, “That’s totally a ___________ way of handling things.”
When your characters have their own personality and seem life-like, you’ll find it much easier to form your story. Plus, your readers will want to keep reading your writing because they love your characters and want to know more about them.
So – how do I write my characters?
Honestly, my technique is a little weird. I’ve never read about anyone else doing what I do, so I make no promises that it will work for you. I’ve just found it works for me, especially when I’m creating my protagonist.
1. Think up an idea for a story and an idea of a character to build that story around
The first thing I do is get an idea for a story – a very, very basic form of an idea, but an idea nonetheless. Seriously, I don’t have a plot structure mapped out or anything.
So, let’s say I want to write a story of a government controlled superhero. Perfect. Now, I decide what type of character would fit that. Maybe a jock football player who broke his spine and a government employed mad-scientist-type doctor did his surgery?
Sure. That sounds good.
2. Get in my character’s head
In this step, I spend a lot of time in my head. I don’t write much down or talk about it – I just try to figure out how my character would react in everyday situations. I basically imagine I am my character (I told you this was weird). How would jock-boy react at the grocery store when he saw Oreos were on sale? What about when he gets cut off on the highway?
Essentially, whatever situation I’m in, I imagine being my character. This helps me understand who they are and who I want them to be.
3. Nailing down my character’s personality and physical traits
This is when I start putting the pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard?). I make a list of the personality and physical traits I think my character has.
It looks something like this:
Jock-boy isn’t a jerk. He’s not stereotypical. He’s really smart – maybe he doesn’t even like playing football, he’s just good at it. He’s a hard worker, very respectful to his teachers, and has a good relationship with his parents. Also, he seems like someone who likes to help people. Maybe a junior or senior in high school? Dusty blonde hair, green eyes. He’s well-built from all his time on the field and in the gym – 6’3”, 160 lbs.
If I’m having trouble doing this and thinking too much, I set a timer for 20 minutes and type as much as I can as fast as I can. When the time’s up, I go back and delete or make additions.
4. Figuring out my character’s goals/desires
Once I’ve spent time learning about my character and fleshing out his character traits, I have a better idea of what his/her deeper desires are. What does my character really want out of life?
This is when I come back to my story idea. Even though my idea might be super basic, it’ll will help me identify the external and internal goals of my character.
Back to our jock-boy – what does he ultimately want in life? How does my story idea help or hinder him?
I think he ultimately wants to go to college, but he can’t afford it and doesn’t want to leave his parents. Maybe he lives in a modern dystopian society and his parents are super poor for whatever reason. He plays football to get a scholarship, because – let’s be honest – he’s really good.
Everything changes when his back snaps at an end of season game. He can’t feel his legs. There’s no way he’ll get a scholarship now. And maybe his family depends on the extra income he makes to help out.
As he’s rushed to the ER a doctor comes in and offers an experimental surgery that would create him into a cyborg. He wouldn’t be able to play football because he’d have an unfair advantage, but his family would be compensated for participating in the experiment. In other words, he’d still be able to go to college and his parents would be taken care of.
BAM! There’s a great start to our plot!
5. Finally – Name
I hate coming up with names. I HATE IT. That’s probably why I do it last. IT’S JUST SO HARD!
Rarely does a name just come to me. When it does, it’s like a glorious whisper from an angel. But it RARELY happens. So I turn to baby name websites. Behind the Name is the one I use the most because it has a feature where you can search by meaning. I also like babynames.net.
Personally, my favorite way of choosing names is by searching for meanings that I feel fit my character. If I have a character with an impulsive and aggressive personality, I’ll look up names with “fire” in their meaning. But sometimes names just sound cool. A character in my current WIP (work in progress) novel has a name because I heard it on a Youtube video and liked.
I also take into consideration the setting of my story. My WIP is a YA fantasy with kings and such, so most of my characters’ names are from Ancient German, Irish, or Gaelic. I imagine our jock-boy is a more modern day hero, so let’s call him Alec. It signifies strength or protection; it’s not insanely common, yet it’s recently become more popular in America.
Don’t let names bog you down – you can always change names later. Use whatever works for you. You do you, bro.
I don’t go through this exact process for every character. I use this mainly for my protagonist and a couple of the major characters. I don’t really put that much thought into my minor characters unless they serve an important part in my plot.
Next week, I’ll walk you guys through my outlining process.