The recent shootings and subsequent debates, not to mention all the other turmoil in the world, brought to mind how perspective plays such a crucial role in how we interpret what happens around us. Not one person, regardless of race, religion, socioeconomic background, etc., will ever have the exact same perspective, or lens, from which they view the world. Those with common backgrounds may have similar world views, but never identical.
The reason? Everyone has unique experiences, and even when similar things happen to a person, their personality means they handle it differently than the guy next door.
I’ve noticed this even in my own family; you would think since we grew up together, we’d all interpret things the same way. Man, would that have spared us so many contentious moments. It would have also led to a very dull and boring childhood and family reunions. I’m grateful for the uniqueness of each of my siblings, my mother, grandmother, and all those I call friends.
What does this have to do with writing, you may ask?
No two characters will, or at least shouldn’t, react to a situation the same way. No two authors, though their ideas may be similar, will ever tell the same story. Because no two ever view life through the same perspective.
I recently read a great post on the Authors Think Tank that addresses how different people may view holidays. Fascinating! I started thinking about this and found it to be true in my own life.
I love Halloween. I met my husband during a Halloween carnival, so it has special meaning to me. Not to mention the awesome costumed! But I know others who hate Halloween. They find having to buy candy annoying. The dress-up aspect creeps them out. Or, some think the pagan holiday shouldn’t be allowed for religious reason. On the other hand, I find Valentine’s Day to be ridiculous. Others disagree.
It’s important to figure out how your character would respond and why. What in their background made them view a holiday, sport, particular day, or even something they encounter on a regular basis, like donuts, the way they do?
Let’s take donuts as an example, silly I know, but bear with me.
Some people see a donut and think of cozy winter nights with some hot cocoa and yummy pastry.
Others, perhaps a diabetic or those with celiac disease, see it as a cruel temptation, something they miss, or something that could possibly kill them. Or one person may think of the time they ate two dozen donuts on a dare, puked, and now can’t even smell the cursed things without gagging. Or, if they’re like me, you’ll wonder if it’s worth adding to the baby fat I have yet to lose. ;) No two people will see, or even smell, a donut and respond the same.
Do you need to know whether your character once ate two dozen donuts and now hates them before you start writing?
But you do need to know if your character is the type who would eat two dozen donuts on a dare, or because they were never allowed one as a kid so went crazy the first time they tried one, or ate one and then had to rush to the hospital. If you know enough about what kind of person your character is, what shaped them to be that way, and can immerse yourself into their perspective, you’re well on your way to publication. There are crucial other steps, of course, but getting a character’s voice right and keeping it consistent, are key to sucking in a reader and making sure they stay hooked.
How can you do this?
Many writers swear by character interviews to get them started, like the one found here. Another tool I’ve heard about, and recently incorporated, is writing a journal entry or character synopsis, even a paragraph or two helps, for each character, major and minor. Make sure you write it as if you are that character, not the author. I’d highly recommend this method to wrap your head around the character’s voice and attitude toward events in the story. It helped me figure out my villain’s motivations for the project I’m outlining. Plus, I got to tap into my dark side!
Next, figure out what holidays, events, both personal and national/international, that elicit a strong emotional response from your character. Why do they respond that way? Did their father die Christmas Eve? Was Easter the day they got their first bike? Think about this for different seasons as well. Some are thrilled for winter, while others hate it. Why?
This why? should be something you ask all the time as you write. Why does my character feel/think that way? Why does he respond that way to each situation he faces? Why would this obstacle or setback have a negative/positive impact on him? Keep asking why and you’ll get to the heart of your character and story.
Once you know your character so well they annoy you day and night with their chatter, and yell at you when you try to write a scene wrong, and drive you bonkers, you’ll wish they never started talking. Kidding, though sleep may become scarce, embrace the journey.
If you want more information on character and their arcs, Jordan McCollum offers a ton of tips and resources on her blog.
What are your best methods for developing character? Which characters have you fallen in love with, your own or someone else’s? Why?