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The Hard Stuff and the Fun Stuff: Character Building


White Sand National Park, New Mexico
Jen here:

I’ve been talking about developing your characters in the last few posts. We talked about Raising the Stakes here and Why Your Heroine Doesn’t Want What She Thinks She Wants here.

Making the Hard Stuff Easier
There are a couple of other things you might want to consider while crafting your characters. The first is how your theme will interact with your characters and your plot. Your character’s biggest fear or obstacle to overcome is a clue to what your theme is. Another way to think of it is, what life lesson do they need to learn?

Don’t be didactic about it. You don’t have to hit your readers over the head or preach at them. But think about your own life. There are seasons where you learned one lesson or another through various means. Your characters go through the same things.

Here’s an example. In my second historical book, The Road Home, where the heroine tries to hide her past, the theme is forgiveness. It fits with what Emily needs to achieve her inner goal. She needs to forgive herself and her grandfather. And she encourages Josh to forgive his drunken father. Until they have both learned that life lesson, they can’t have a successful life together.

Quirks and fun
Now on to the fun stuff. Quirks are good ways to give your characters personality. Odd little habits that make them more realistic. It’s a great way to put your people-watching skills to use. Things like rubbing their fingers together, cleaning their glasses, always wearing sunglasses or a certain necklace/medallion, twirling their hair, picking at their clothes. Or a certain phrase or speech pattern only they use, like malaprops. Or certain rituals or superstitions or routines. Or she’s a fashionista or he has an unusual hair style. Let your creativity play here.

Here are some questions to think about that will help you fleshing out your characters.
1) What would they dream about, at night while they’re sleeping?  What's going on in their subconscious right now? Also nightmares are fun to do. It can bring out the core of who they are and what they are feeling.

2) Let them play. What kind of games do they like?  What do they do to relieve the stress? What are some character traits that will come out as they participate in the game? Will they cheat? Do they have to win at all cost? Will they sacrifice their own position to help someone else do better?

3) What are their hobbies?  Write a scene where they are doing something they like to do. Cooking? Hunting? Swimming? Target shooting? Painting? Sewing? Woodcarving? Lots of options here.

Never underestimate the power of your creative mind. Let some of these things stew for awhile and see what your brain comes up with. Your characters will have more dimensions than you ever imagined. 

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