The most logical, but often times over looked step in creating a character is the knowledge of their biography. I read somewhere once that J.K. Rowling had boxes of notes regarding the Harry Potter books. I am sure she must have felt like Harry and others were members of her family by the end of the series.
Is your character right handed, do they have allergies, or do they have a secret phobia? There is not a perfect person in the world to my knowledge, so why would we want to read about perfect characters? One of my first stories revolved around two sisters in their 40’s. They had no problems. No. Problems. Both had wonderful husbands, nice cars, careers they loved, children with no problems, and I loved them!
I loved them for a very short while. They were far too perfect. Neither would be caught taking the trash out in a printed tshirt unless it was for a local college sports team with perfect makeup and hair. I do not know a soul like this. I suppose I could have made that drive for perfection a flaw but frankly, perfection was too hard to write. Once I dug into their biographies though, interesting details began to emerge and the story became much more interesting. I will just say it turned out one had a penchant for renaissance fairs and costumes, only she began to prefer to dress that way everyday. Some women do love a wimple.
My goal as a writer is to provide my readers with a world in which to escape, whether it is a small southern town in 1935 or with reluctant soldier in the civil war. As a reader, my favorite books involve characters that invoke a sense of kinship, amazement or wonder. Two characters that have stood out in my mind over the years are two southern sisters, Mary Alice and Patricia Ann written by the late Anne George.
There are 8 books in this series and reading each one made me feel as if I was visiting the fun side of my family. Though these are cozy mysteries, they have moments of humor and Anne George had a masterful way of “showing" the reader the characters details.
This is a literal interpretation from a part of one scene.
Patricia Ann has just removed cookies from the oven and is slightly smarting over Mary Alice’s previous remark regarding the state of her hair. Mary Alice is eating a hot cookie and she happens to be wearing a garish tshirt with a pelican on it.
This interpretation does not interest me as a reader. The only emotion evoked is the stated emotion of “still smarting” .
This is the scene from the actual book:
I scooped up a hot cookie and handed it to her. Burn, baby,burn.
Mary Alice blew on the cookie. A couple of crumbs fell on her turquoise T-shirt, which declared “Tough Old Bird” and which had a pelican with a yellow beak peeking around the words. Given the expanse and jiggle of Mary Alice’s chest, that bird was having a rough flight.
Anne George: Murder on a Girl's Night Out
That one paragraph stands out in that chapter to me. I highly recommend these books to read if you love descriptive characters and laughing out loud!
I am posting links to some sites that I have found helpful. Mix and Match them and ask some of your own questions. People watching will also be helpful to add mannerisms and quirks in a descriptive manner. Character worksheets are must for me. In 2011, I completed NaNoWriMo and had a character named Alma. Well, sometimes she was Alma and sometimes Anna. I had not done worksheet on her so you can only imagine how interesting she was, especially if I her creator could not remember her name!
Jenny Meyer Hoff: Character Worksheets Tara K. Harper's Writer's Workshop and different worksheet sets from The Writer's Craft.
I also recommend the inspiring and insightful Characterization series written by Larry Brooks at Storyfix.com.
In the next post I will share with you some of the things I discover about the main character from my current WIP. What is a trait o that emerged from one of your character's biographies?