Nancy’s Notes: Characters Depend On You
Yes, characters depend on their creator to fashion their entire world. We, as writers, get to know them, work with them, and give them life. We are like a director of a movie. And as such, we must instruct our actors, pull out their best work, and allow them to experiment with different ways of playing a scene.
Actors don’t like to be ordered around or pushed. Neither do characters. Have you ever had a character completely shut down? Some might call it writer’s block but if you are making your character do things that go against their inner script then everything stops. You might have to go back in the story and figure out where you went wrong and fix it before continuing on.
We not only decide who the characters are but why they are as they are. Even villains have a back story, something that acts as motivation for their actions. That back story doesn’t excuse the way they act but it does go to explain why. We have but to listen to them.
Did I say you listen to your characters? Once they’ve been created, characters take on a life or personality of their own. It is then that you have to listen to your character. Would she walk away in anger if the male lead tried to tell her what to do or would she submit to his orders? The two responses indicate two completely different types of women. What if she gets angry but submits because she knows he is right? Her reaction will be different still.
Only the writer can make those subtle distinctions based on the characters personality and experiences and transmit these to the reader. There is a vast difference of perception between a bottle blonde with candy apple red lipstick and a highlighted ash blonde with the latest shade of deep wine. Which do you think would wear press-on nails and which would have her nails professionally done?
In movies, a huge amount of research goes into costume details, hair, make-up. Every nuance is analyzed to become what you see on the screen. With writers, we have to use the written word to create in the reader’s mind a visual image. While writers hesitate to type in a full description from head to foot, we work our descriptions into our narratives. As in ‘Shelby tapped a rhythm with her nails on the side of the truck creating a flash of cherry red against faded starlight blue’.
I’ve always been a visual learner and I work predominately in pictures when writing. What I mean is that I see the story in my mind like a movie then attempt to get it all down on paper. That’s always the fun part. I want everyone to envision my world exactly like I do. Of course, that’s impossible. Everyone has their own way of imagining as they read a book or story.
When bringing my characters to life, I may find a picture to represent them, then begin jotting down every character trait I can think of, and I’m not afraid to add more later. Imagine your character wears a large ring on her right hand middle finger and she hits another girl in the jaw. Now several things might follow such an action: the recipient will have a significant dent in her jaw from the ring, your character might have a broken finger and the ring has to come off before the finger swells, she might also check the ring to make sure it wasn’t damaged. You’ll have to remember the ring when writing the scene. You might also mention it earlier to foreshadow its use.
By staying true to your characters, recognizing their faults and their talents, you create an environment where your characters are free to be who they are. They depend on you to deliver a finished product that truly represents their world. Don’t disappoint them.