In previous What’s in Character posts, we have been creating a character full of interest and realism. We have discussed core personalities, physical appearances, and external influences. Five more layers to add and our creation will come to life.
The next layer is pretty straight forward but no less important. What age is the character? Sure the story line may dictate certain ages for your main characters. However, you should still consider the ramifications of the character being older or younger. Could the “Mentor” in your story be a sixteen year old computer prodigy instead of a seventy year old. How would that affect the way the character reacts? Try different ages for each of your characters and see how the dynamics of the story changes.
Another internal trait that can completely change a character is self-esteem. Variations in self-esteem can affect different core personalities in a variety of ways. A leader with poor self-esteem may look to his advisers to make critical decisions. A self-absorbed engineer may ignore the advice of the architect and take shortcuts when building a skyscraper, just to come in on time and under budget. He could care less that the building is unsafe. Self-esteem issues are very high on the list of reasons people seek counselling. Why does the character see themselves the way they do?
That brings us to major events that have affected the character. Most of us can look back over our lives and point to few events that changed our lives. Our lives were changed not only by the events themselves, but by the way we reacted to the events. Sometimes these events are global and affect thousands of people. Natural disasters, war, and plague are a few that come to mind. Other times they are personal and may seem insignificant to an outsider. For example, a family member dies or is buried on a holiday or a parent ridicules a child in front of his friends. The event doesn’t have to be negative. Setting a state record in a sporting event, receiving the acceptance letter to a highly respected school, or winning the lottery could all be life altering events. Now take into account that core personality. Each personality type may react differently to the same event.
Closely related to major events are the passions that each person has. it may be writing, or running, or chess, or programming computers, or politics, or working with statistics. What ever it is, a character should have one or more things that they are passionate about. These are the things the character does when they are not working for a living. They may be related to the story line or they may be used as a divergence to slow down the pace of a story. Either way, they make the character deeper. the reader can relate better to someone if they know what the character loves to do.
Okay. You are almost there. You should have a dozen or so pages, at least, of notes about your character. by now you should know the character well enough that you could sit down and have an interview with a reporter as your character and never miss a question. So…
Time to open an internet browser or your file cabinet and locate a “Character Questionnaire”. There are hundreds of them available. I’m sure you’ve seem them and you may have already used them. That’s fine. However, even if you used one before, you now have a fleshed out character that can actually answer the questions in a meaningful way. You have a background and experiences to relate to that will help you answer the questions. Take your time here. These questionnaires can provide a wealth of detail that you can use to draw the reader into your story and make them love/hate your characters.
There you are. If you have followed along and added all of the layers we have discussed, you have a fully fleshed out character that is ready to be thrown to the wolves of your story conflict. You will know how the character will react, most of the time, to most of the situations where you may place them. Why is he hedging you may ask? That’s because, no matter how well you develop a character outside of the story plot, some characters find a way to do what they want even though the writer doesn’t want them to. If this happens, my advice is to go with it. The character may know better than you.
Those of you who have been creating a character using this technique, I would love to hear from you on how it worked out, or not.