All month long, we’ve been talking about ways to make your characters seem like real people. It all started Here, if you’re just joining us.
Today is the last in our series, as you know. That means that today I’m focusing on what is, perhaps, the biggest thing that I think a lot of writers forget to do with their characters. And I’m going to be very honest with you here. I forget to do it sometimes, too.
Make them weird.
Honestly, I think it has something to do with our culture. Much of the time, we’re so focused on not being weird around people, on being as normal as we know how to be, even though I’m fairly certain no one in the entire world is normal.
So our characters shouldn’t be, either.
Let them be nose pickers. Let them sing and dance when they think no one is looking. Let them cross their eyes when they’re bored. Let them start drumming out a beat on their knees. Let them have hobbies no one else has heard of. Let them be who they are, people with pieces to them that they might not want everyone to see.
The thing with characters is that they’re malleable, moldable, changeable. While the setting and world are generally fixed, immobile, unchangeable, characters are finite. They change with every paragraph, every page, every story—primarily because we do too. You won’t be the same person tonight that you were when you woke up this morning. That’s science. So your characters need to be malleable in that way, as well.
Let them be human, even if they aren't, technically speaking, human.
It’s one of the hardest things to do, but one of the most rewarding things when you sit down and do your best to perfect it (always remembering, of course, that no person, no character, no writer, no novel, will ever be perfect).
If you want to write good, strong, human characters, you need to be people watching. You need to be making a study of the thing you want to write. You need to get over some of the things your teachers taught you in school, because those rules don’t apply here. You need to learn how people talk, and discover how to convey that through dialogue or exposition. And you need to remember that no one, not even the characters we write, should ever be completely normal.
After all, even the most vanilla girl has a skeleton in her closet. Or maybe a bullhorn.
Associate Editor, Etc.
p.s. For the next two months, you'll be enjoying new series' by none other than the illustrious Tammy Boehm! Be sure to check back next week to see what March's focus will be!