Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Characterization: Digging Deep by Personalizing

photo by Stuart Miles
Ever since I was given the "okay" to start back writing again, I have been trying to learn more about characterization. You see, I had an editor tell me that my manuscript was lacking in character development. Good plot, but cardboard characters. So I picked up a book, Getting Into Character by Brandilyn Collins and began taking notes. I thought I would share with you what I am learning.

When you develop a character, the first place you start is by Personalizing. Most of you already do this by interviewing your character or filling out a questionnaire about them. Great! That is a good start! But now you need to dig a little deeper.

Basics:  General information, such as gender, age, work, social standing, etc...

Specifics: This is where you begin to ask questions. Say your character is wealthy. Has she been wealthy a long time or has she just come into wealth?  Knowing the answer to this will tell you her attitude toward her wealth.

Dig Deeper: Keep going with your questions until you can't ask anymore. Let's find out more about the wealthy character in Step 2. Let's say she had just come into wealth. How had she come into her wealth? Did she win the lottery or did she receive insurance money from the death of both her parents? Is she excited about the money, or does she resent the money because it represents the loneliness of being without family? Let's say she won the lottery and is excited about her money. Is she going to go crazy and spend it, or is she going to hoard it, fearful it might run out? If she goes crazy and spends it, what might she spend it on and why? She might purchase cars if she has had to drive old, beat-up jalopies. Or she might buy nice jewelry and clothes if she had been forced to wear hand-me-downs or shop at thrift stores.

But don't stop there...dig deeper. Why does she feel the need to buy nice things? Maybe she felt like people looked down on her for wearing old, worn-out clothes. Maybe she was teased or made fun of. Her self worth is tied up in how she looks, so now she dresses nice and gets her hair and nails done to feel good about herself. She is worthy now that she has money. That is her inner value.

Traits and Mannerisms: What kind of traits or mannerisms will your character have resulting from their inner value? Our wealthy lady may continually push her hair behind her ears to show off her large diamond earrings. She may click her long, manicured fingernails together subconsciously. You don't need to give your characters an overabundance of traits, but you need some to reinforce their inner value and make them believable.

This is not a one time process. There will be times when your character will want to do something that is "out of character". Start the process over until you know your character's motivation and inner value. You can also do this process in reverse. Start with a quirky mannerism and work your way back to the specifics. Get to know your character inside and out.

This post is just a little taste of all the good information Brandilyn Collins shared in her book, Getting Into Character, Seven Secrets a Novelist Can Learn From Actors. Check it out!

What is your process for characterization? How do you build a character and make them real?


This post is brought to you by
 Sherrinda Ketchersid

Sherrinda is a minister's wife and mother to three giant sons and one gorgeous daughter. A born and bred Texan, she writes historical romance filled with fun, faith, and forever love.


Pepper said...

Oh oh! I love talking about characters, Sherrinda!!
Great post.

And I really like the process of asking my characters questions. I'll have a character 'pop' into my head and I start the whole 'why' spiral

Photos of characters who look similiar to the one in my head also help. I'll stare at the picture and ask those questions, you know...like a crazy person ;-)

One of the BIGGEST questions I have to answer for character development is 'what do you need?" That's one of the deep points of my character arc. Not so much what does my character 'want', though it's important to know the answer to that one too - but for the spiritual arc and character growth dynamic, I have to figure out what does my character 'need'.

Okay...sorry - went long again ;-)

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Pepper, you could teach a class on this, I'm sure! And I can soooo picture you talking to pictures of hunky guys! lol

"What do you need?" That is a GREAT question, one that I hadn't really thought about as I was doing this post. AWESOME input, Pep!

Jeanne Takenaka said...

Sherrinda, this is a great post! I've been considering getting that book....oh, forever. Maybe it's time to step out and buy it. :)

I loved what you shared. I'm figuring out characters for a new story, and I'm going to use what you shared.


Susan Anne Mason said...

Thanks for this post and the mention of Brandilyn's book!

Pepper, love that question! I shall have to use it with my characters!

I don't really have any special method for characterization. I do try to use some of the worksheets from Susan May Warren's books "Kiss and Tell" and "The Book Buddy", but I'm not always diligent and usually don't fill them all out completely. It's a start though and the books are excellent!


Unknown said...

Okay, after Feedly ate my eloquent comments twice, I'll just say I share your pain when it comes to characterization. Thanks for the post (okay...touch nothing on the screen except for "Publish").

Julia M. Reffner said...

I LOVE that you're writing again. I'll be curious to hear more. :)

I use the Book Buddy worksheets, too. And software that I have for the basics.

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Jeanne, I think you would like this book. It is practical and has many examples of what she is talking about.

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Oooo, Susan, I love The Book Buddy and have found it to be very helpful. I haven't tried the Kiss and Tell, but am sure it is just as good!

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Ron, you made me laugh! Thanks for the empathy regarding my lack of characterization skills. Give me action and I can write that, but getting deep into a character...well, I have a lot of work to do! Good luck in your endeavors.

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Julia, yes...I am not pushing myself with the writing. My trouble was that I let is get all consuming and I think God wanted me to learn balance.

I'm curious as to what software you use for your basic characterization.

Mary Vee Writer said...

Poor Ron, I've had comments eaten, too. Thanks for your persistence.

You are so wise to research the very area that needs strengthening before writing a new book. It will alleviate so many frustrations. You are my hero and a great example.

Oh, and to start talking about the wisdom shared by Brandilyn, well, there you go…buy the book, go to her classes, listen to her tapes. Yeah. Sherrinda thank you for sharing pointers from Brandilyn for a resource.

As for me. I get quirky like Pepper. I can't handle the filling out a form thing. I find a pic that represents the character then start talking to them. I find characters to be blabbermouths and very willing to share TONS of info about themselves. Sometimes you have to hide the photo to get them to shut up!!

Ashley Clark said...

Ha! Funny Pepper should say that, because every time I think about characters, I think about hers-- she is such a master at this! I think one of the really cool things about digging deep into character is that we often surprise ourselves with how they answer our questions! :)

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Ooo, I might have to check out Brandilynn's book too! Like Pep, I LOVE talking about characters. I love discovering their little quirks. I firmly believe it's those little ticks that make them come to life on the page. What little mannerisms help define them? Nervous habits that reveal their secrets? How can I use their body language to show you something unique about them. It's one of my favorite things about creating characters--little glimpses that peel through to the under-layer. Great post, Sher!!!!

Saumya said...

This is so great! I've looked up the Myers Briggs personality types that match my characters. I also turned to Zodiac signs, haha. Great post!!

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Haha! Mary, I can just picture you shoving your character's photo into a drawer and slamming it shut! Bwahahaha! Girl, you always make me smile. I love the way your mind whirls.

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Ashley, I must be uber bad at characterization because I have never had a character surprise me like you have. Yep...I gotta dig deeper, for sure!

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Thanks, Amy! I can imagine reading your book, looking for clues to show me who the bad guy is!!! I bet it is fun to do that with the type of stories you write!

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Sauyma, I totally forgot about personality tests! That is a great resource!!! I will have to remember that! Thank you!