One of the most interesting aspects of having kids is watching their distinct personalities develop as they grow. It’s so crazy to see. Our five-year-old and three-year-old have such different personalities that sometimes you’d think they weren’t even related. And our little two-year-old is now really starting to become a fun little person and letting her sense of humor show through.
It is so freakin’ cool. When I think about the kids, I don’t think about how they look; I think about who they are. Even at such young ages, you can already see what kind of people they are, and what kind of people they will be.
That’s part of what makes us all unique. That personality that is our own and can’t be duplicated or replicated. And it’s also how we need to look our characters. The characters we create in our fiction need to exist as real people. Our descriptions need to bring forth the personalities of our characters, and not waste too much ink on physical attributes.
When you think of some of the most memorable characters from your favorite novels, think about what made them so special. It was how they reacted to dangerous situations, how they interacted with other characters, how they felt about or responded to the major themes of the novel.
And when you think about what those characters looked like, you may have been given a few superficial traits such as height, weight, and hair color, but the great authors don’t dwell on much more than that. They leave it up to the reader and let the character be defined by his actions.
It’s also immensely important to make sure the reader can differential between the characters in your story.
In other words, your characters are not all the same. This includes the standard things like background, race, religion, gender, and age, but I’d say even more importantly than that, your character diversity should include a different voice for each character.
That voice could reflect on the character’s background and ethnicity, but regardless of that, your character must be unique enough for a reader to instantly know when that character is a POV character, and also for every action that character make to be consistent with what the reader would expect.
Avoid one-dimensional traits
It should also be worth noting that if you’re not careful, your characters’ most dominate trait becomes their single defining one. I like to use the 1980s-1990s slasher analogy for this. Seeming every slash film back then had the same cast: The joker, the jock, the stoner, the “pure” girl, the promiscuous girl, and the “other”. The “other” of course being the single non-white character, who was often portrayed as a negative stereotype.
With that example, it’s easy to see the problem. None of those characters are ever set up in a way to show any development or growth. Their entire personality and voice is defined by whatever trait they have. The joker is always joking until he dies, for example.
This is a big failure for me, actually. The novel I was working on editing fell into this trap, and that’s part of the reason I pulled it out of the querying. The characters are too similar in every way, except for that one defining trait. The stoner is always stoning.
So, I guess it’s a good time to close out this post, as I’m typing it with a sleeping baby on my lap. It will be interesting to see what type of personality he develops, and I’ll do my best to make to help develop and grow, even more than if he were one of my characters.
Thanks for reading. If you’ve got any tips on character development to share, leave a comment!