Happy Monday! (I say that just about every week, though I am still not convinced such a thing exists.)
As I may have mentioned a half-dozen times, I am in the beginning stages of my next novel. I thought that while I am here, plucking along with the first steps of a new endeavor, that we might revisit some of the work that goes into planning for a novel.
It’s true, I am not a hardcore planner. I still straddle that line between plotter and pantser. I hear plantser and plottser tossed around. I prefer plantser. It just sounds less…fecal?
Okay, moving right along.
I do try my best to get to know my characters before I begin writing the manuscript. I like to know who I’m working with and I find it makes my pantsing parts of the novel easier. I may not know every situation I’m going to put my MC through, but if I’ve figured out their desires and motivations, it helps me figure out how they’ll cope with each barrier I put in front of them.
Here are my three must-knows.
These archetypes are brought to you courtesy of Carl Jung, a Swedish psychiatrist and psychoanalyst. He founded analytical psychology. So, it’s pretty safe to say the guy knew what he was talking about.
Mr. Jung (1875-1961) devised those twelve archetypes using motivations, desires, and fears. Each archetype has a base desire and a base fear. For instance, the hero’s desire is to change the world. Sure, it may just mean they want to fix their town’s water crisis or see their school to victory in the chess tournament. The hero’s fear? Weakness.
Here is an excellent post going into a lot more detail about Jung’s archetypes.
If you narrow down your character’s archetype (or a combination of them, as the case may be—Harry Potter: Orphan + Hero) you’ll have a better idea of what motivates them, what they crave, and what will make them lose sleep at night.
Knowing the character’s archetype can help you figure out their backstory. A hero is going to be a hero for a reason, right?
It can also help you guide their entire arch, help you design their growth. (Not that kind of growth, that comes in the next step.) And deciphering these twelve archetypes is just slightly less time-consuming than taking an entire Myers-Briggs test for each character. Just sayin’.
I am feeling an expanded blog post on archetypes in the future.
So, if you’ve read my books, I do tend to leave a certain amount of my characters’ appearances to your imagination. (Also thanks so much for reading!) But there are certain things I want to know for sure about them before I get going…and if their appearance is going to change much or at all by the end of the book.
How much you divulge to your readers may vary. For instance, in Alabama Rain, my MC Corrie lived during the Great Depression as a teenage girl. Her appearance was not nearly as important to her as it was to my MC in Sex, Love, and Technicalities. Corrie wasn’t going to gaze at herself in a mirror wondering if her wingtip eyeliner was on point or her eyebrows were on fleek. She was, you know, worried about eating her next meal and generally surviving.
But, knowing certain things like height can be important for more than vanity’s sake. Say for instance…if you say in the beginning of the book she retrieves something from a tall shelf and then half-way through suddenly your character is really short…then…you’ve got a consistency issue. Either give her a stepladder in the beginning or work out her height before you put pen to paper or fingers to keys.
Scars are another one. They can be conversation starters. They can be clues. They can be reminders of battles won or lost. I like scars. And tats.
Many moons ago, I made some writing aides you might find handy when remembering all the things you might want to include in your physical descriptions.
Language (aka Voice)
I’m not sure, but this may be the one I spend the most time on. I like to know how my character sounds…which is funny since you can’t actually hear them. But, if I’ve done my job, I hope you can sort of hear them.
Again, thinking of Alabama Rain, most of my characters do not use proper grammar. It wouldn’t fit their education or their place in time. They sometimes talk in deep Southern accents, and there are subtle changes in the way they speak in different situations. (Like when Mabel and Cornelia first meet Miss Tinky and they try to use better grammar.)
Or, in Sex, Love, and Technicalities, I tried not to remind people that my character, Celine, was French too many times, but I wanted it to be obvious in the way she spoke, even when she was speaking English.
I feel a character’s voice helps convey so much about them and often in subtler ways than anything else.
The vocabulary you give your characters, how they talk to the elderly or to children vs. how they talk to their enemies, when they’re having internal dialogue are they kind to themselves or do they have a touch of depression? A lot of depression?
I may find this the most intriguing.
Here’s another nice post on speech, from the fine folks at Now Novel.
I’m penciling in a post on dialogue…I HAVE A LOT TO SAY. (See what I did there?)
Notice how I didn’t include backstory in my list? Yeah, I do flesh some of that out, too, but I’d honestly rather know these three things about my characters. But that’s just me. You do you.
Oh, and by the way, if you haven’t checked out my giveaway, please feel free to do so.
And, if you enjoyed tonight’s Pop Art theme, you might enjoy some of the things I’ve created on RedBubble. If you have a minute, check out my store.
That’s it ladies and gents. I’ll see you soon. Until then, happy writing and if you’re in the path of one of the, what? bajillion storms hitting the US, please be safe. ♥
4 thoughts on “Character Basics”
Thank you for this post! It’s just the thing I needed this week. Sharing for other. ❤
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Another thing I like to do with my characters (protagonists at least) is to figure out what each of them would carry in their pockets/purse/briefcase every day. What kind of key fob, phone case, cigarettes, pocket knife, etc. would they have? Usually, this ends up giving me 1-3 spontaneous character traits organically and helps me establish their daily routines.
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That’s a very neat idea! Thanks David!