Yes, my hand is raised.
The Hunger Games
No matter how the film world ends up interpreting the characters we write in novels, we still need to take care in how we portray them. After all, it is the characters a reader falls in love with (just take a look at the Twilight series, because I don't believe it's the writing that's winning over fans). As writers, how does one go about crafting a striking character that will stand out to the reader and make the story come alive? Here are a few pointers:
- Avoid clichés -- Don't make every cop crooked, every blonde busty, every school teacher gentle and sweet, or every lead male flawless in appearance and backstory. I once reviewed a novel (The Art of Murder by Don West) and the whole thing made me cringe. To this day, I think it's one of the most character clichéd books I've ever read. You want your characters to be unique. Give them qualities that will stand out to the reader, like a fascinating backstory or quirky characteristics. I recently heard a statistic about hitchhikers. Hitchhikers who wear ties are more likely to get picked up off the side of the road than those who don't. Well, then give your hitchhiker a tie!
- Don't just focus on physical appearance -- Although we fall in love with a character at first sight (or first read) we always want to know what makes that character tick. What kind of story follows this character around? Is it a tale of woe? As the story unfolds, the reader wants to peel back the layers of what's hiding underneath. Make sure to give them that opportunity! Take the hitchhiker for example -- Why is he out hitching a ride in the first place? Why does he wear a fancy tie, and yet he carries a backpack on his back as a displaced homeless man would? Bring the reader to that point where they just have to know!
- But don't be vague about physical appearance -- When characters tend to be poorly fleshed out in appearance, the reader tends to feel a sense of disconnect. Although I've never read it, I remember reading reviews about Toni Morrison's 2008 novel A Mercy, a novel that seems to have flat characters, mainly because she doesn't physically flesh them out very well. And a lot of times, this is why we get disappointed at the box office. The director just had a different vision of a vague character.
- Give your main character a flaw -- Nobody relates to a perfectly written character, mainly because in the real world we all have flaws. As readers, we want to empathize with the main character. After all, we're invested in him/her for the next 300+ pages. This has a lot to do with those layers I spoke about earlier. The flaw could also be physical, like a bad memory or scars with a story the reader is definitely going to want to know. Back to my hitchhiker -- What if he has a mysterious tattoo on his hand that peaks the reader's interest? That marked-up piece of skin could be a clue to this man's past. What if it depicts something especially violent? Now the reader is going to wonder if the person who picked him up is having second thoughts about that misleading tie.
- Look for people in the real world who best reflect your main characters -- It doesn't hurt to envision a certain actor as that mysterious hitchhiker with tie and tattoo and thumb out for a ride. Who comes to mind? Maybe keep a picture of that individual on hand so you have a reference back to how he looks. It can make the writing process less confusing.
|Need a lift?|
When it comes to the people in your life, who is:
- The sexiest
- The smartest
- The most educated
- The most emotional
- The best well-dressed
- The slyest
- The dumbest
- The most creative
- The happiest
- The saddest
- The quirkiest
- The most ruthless
Do you struggle with creating believable characters? Do you have any tips you'd like to share when it comes to putting together a main character?