One of the biggest problems I have with writing is creating a character that stays consistent all the way through my story. It doesn’t matter if the story is a page or a full book, they always seem to evolve half way through. Not in that ‘well-planned, perfectly developed way’, just in that ‘oh they’re funny now’ or ‘they suddenly seem smarter for no reason’ way. I’ve tried a few different techniques to tame my characters. Some successful, some not, and some vary depending on how difficult my character has decided to be that day.
Anyway, here’s some ideas for anyone else having trouble:
NB: These are ideas for children’s book writing! If you try any of these on adult fiction they may well make your story metaphorically crumble, burn and explode. I don’t know though, just a warning.
1. Make your characters animals.
Not literally, just give them an animal alter-ego. It makes it easier to imagine their actions once you give an identity that already has characteristics that you associate to it.
2. Make your characters caricatures.
It’s worth remembering not to underestimate the little tots – they’re smarter than you think! However, often the subtle development that I think I’ve written is near invisible to readers, both adult and children. I find spelling it out a little bit more can help.
3. Base them on someone you know.
This one can be helpful when you’re trying to work out what your character would do or say. I find it best for ‘bad guys’. When you try it for creating the ‘good guys’ you just end up accidentally putting in private jokes that readers won’t get, or care to get…
4. Give them one defining physical attribute or a ‘prop’.
A floppy fringe that they keep flicking back, a tight backpack they keep nervously tightening, gum that they chew very loudly… This can reveal how your character is feeling with out spelling it out. It also makes your scenes a little less static which is an added bonus.
5. Draw them!
It doesn’t matter if you’re a bad drawer, just get them down on paper as something to look at the remind yourself of them. You don’t want them to start with a red mohawk in the first chapter and a blonde bob in the last. You can also add those little props and quirks to remind yourself of what they might be doing.
6. Give them one defining attribute; cheeky, bossy, nerdy, etc.
Literally just writing one word on a page for each character can be as helpful as giving them a whole character profile. Every time you go off track it makes you ask yourself; ‘would a bossy/silly/greedy person do that?
7. DON’T base them on yourself.
We tend to have a slightly rose coloured view of ourselves and often view ourselves as having so many attributes and layers that there’s no longer a character in there, just a pile of wonderful unnaturally amazing characteristics. Making your characters realistic means that they’ve got have a few flaws, and as none us writers’ have any of those it just wouldn’t work ;)
8. Get a second opinion.
Ask someone to read a chapter of your character and write one word to describe your character. This will check you’re getting the result you’re intending to. The more people you ask, the more clear it will be whether your character is being perceived how you want them to be.
9. Don’t skimp on the details.
You may not need to know for your particular story but it’s good to know your character’s opinion on women’s rights, cucumber sandwiches, the Royal family, everything! Even if you don’t say it in your story, a lot of this information may come across just having it in your head as the writer.
10. Just cry.
A tried and tested technique that has absolutely no positive outcome but it does mean you can put off writing for another 10 minutes.
11. Take some advice.
In the words of Joss Whedon; “You take people, you put them on a journey, you give them peril, you find out who they really are.” So, I guess it’s as simple as that then…