Characters are people, and like people, they should have unique qualities to them that help them stand apart from anyone around them. This might be a bad habit, or a particular turn of phrase, but something should help your characters stand out. A quirk or a habit they have.
Building these quirks and habits doesn’t need to be hard. It also makes characterization easier when you have a bank of features to fall back on for each character.
As an exercise: To help you build a bank of features, make a list of characters you want to flesh out more and answer these questions:
- What’s one bad habit they have?
- What’s one item they always have on them?
- What do they call their grandparents, aunts, uncles and parents? Which set of grandparents gets fun names like Grammy and Gramps, and which ones get Grandad and Grandmom?
- What is their favorite treat?
- What do they do when they’re nervous? (Think about this one carefully, some people stammer, others fidget, and some people even flush when they’re nervous. Your characters should reflect this.)
- How do they react to being shouted at suddenly? (Again, think about this, but don’t forget to reflect on their background. Someone who’s been abused will react very differently to someone who’s grown up in a safe, noisy household).
- What are they likely to collect? Books, stamps, figurines, coins, stuffed animals, etc.
- What do they usually say to greet someone?
- What do they say when they’re saying goodbye to a friend?
- How do they communicate affection without speaking? this
If you’ve read a few of my previous posts, you probably already know that sprints are one of my absolute favorite tools. They’re especially useful when you don’t have a lot of time to sit and write.
Sprints are easy to set up. Get a timer and set it for however long you like. Five, ten and fifteen minute sprints are ideal, but you can set longer sprints between twenty and forty-five minutes if you want (you may see these longer sprints referred to as ‘marathons’). Then, just sit and write as fast as you can.
The best part of a sprint is that you don’t have time to sit and think about word choice, ro sentence structure. The idea isn’t to get a good paragraph down, it’s strictly to get something down for later.
As an option: If you choose to, you can track to see how many words you can write in a given time. Start by writing your current word count down, and then doing a sprint. Mark down how many words you end up with, and subtract how many words you started with. The end result is how many words you’ve written during your sprint.
Sprints are great for friendly competitions as well. If you have a group, set a timer and go. Who can get the highest count? Who can work in the most puns in?
Word association games are great because they let you ignore the usual rules of grammar and sentence structure. The base idea of a word association game is to say the first word that comes to mind. So, for example if someone says blue and your first thought is berry, then you’d say berry. The next person might say pancake, and so on and so forth. They’re a great way to get your creativity flowing.
Thankfully there’s also two to play them!
Option 1 Grab a partner or two and set a timer for five minutes. Pick up the nearest book, open to a random page and use the first word on that page as your starting word. Go back and forth until the timer goes off.
Option 2 If you don’t have a partner, grab a thesaurus and set a timer for ten minutes. Again, grab the nearest book, open to a random page and use the first word on that page as your starting word. Then pick synonyms for that word, looking up each synonym and choosing a word from their synonyms. When the timer goes off, compare your starting word and your ending word to see how far your association traveled.
Now that you have a list of words–get writing! Try to write one sentence per word and make a coherent story out of your word list.
Confession Time: You are not the only writer out there who dreams about what your fans will say and think of your work. You’re also not the only one who wonders what sort of insane theories they’ll come up with. That’s just a fact. Human nature makes us wonder what other people will think of our effort.
If you follow any of the fandoms associated with your favorite shows, you probably know that the theories others can come up with are well-thought out. A lot of them might even use some of the tiniest parts of source material to support those theories.
That can be both a good and a bad thing. As a writer it’s hard to keep every tiny piece in line while writing. So, today I have an exercise for you that will help you keep some of those tinier moments under control as well as developing the hidden backstory.
As an exercise: Write out five to ten theories for your WIP. Go as far out as you like! Who is secretly whose parent? Why does this character have this ability but not another? Does Character A know Character B’s secret, and if so why don’t they reveal that they know?
Then come up with the supporting evidence for each theory. This might be a line of dialogue or how a character reacts. It’s possible that some of your theories might explain why a character isn’t in a particular scene.
Optionally: You can also write out some false theories and find their evidence.