Making Characters Sing… Figuratively

Gary Gentroft, photographer, character - Portrait by Gavin Seim, 2010.

By the Brothers Seim: We’ve learned that  creating a natural character is one of the more challenging aspects in writing. We do struggle with it at times, but have discovered some things along the way.

Let Them Grow: Characters tend to develop a personality by themselves as we write. Planning is good, but forcing an instant personality on an important character is good for little more than filler until you have them laid out and can rewrite them as needed. That’s not necessarily bad, but we should be prepared to craft our characters slow and naturally.

3D! More or Less: Single and multi-dimensional characters are both valuable. Your primary characters need to have dimensions. They need to have depth and personality. Unexpected quirks, strengths and weaknesses. Their not one of those movies with the red and blue glasses. These are the deal deal.

But Minor and cameo characters should often be a bit more single sided. They serve one purpose and that is to fill a space in your story. The reader may only see a few aspects of their personality. That’s a good thing, because if you have a cast of hundreds making with deep intricate personalities , it would probably clutter up your story. Readers can be frustrated by “too much” information (A lot of readers feel this way about certain books in The Wheel of Time Series, for instance). So yes, that much information can be successful, but it’s risky.

Emotion: Important characters should have a method to their madness. A way they react to things, but also a breaking point. A great character possess both positive and negative aspects. At some point the walls come crashing down and they have to stand naked in front of the crowd. When that happens you had better have a solid foundation for that character.  The reader needs to “feel” what they feel (see Kaladin, in Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings).

Quest: I know it’s a fantasy term, but most people have a primary goal in whatever they are doing. Usually characters should as well. That said it doesn’t have to be grand, or even abnormal. You can make the most mundane of things fascinating by writing them properly. Ask yourself what your characters goals are, their hopes and dreams. Blend that with the reality of their situation and their personalty, then watch them form before your eyes.

That’s all for now… The Brothers Seim

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