mandag den 26. april 2010

Creating Characters


Right now I am revising a Danish manuscript of 85,000 words so this is a process that takes some times.

One of the problems is my protagonist. She is a 29-year-old middle class girl, and to be honest, she is a bit of a bore. She is interested in history and genealogy (like I am so that is not the boring part, of course), and she is intelligent though she is still a bit immature. Besides, she has several problems to cope with as she is unemployed, her father is ill and … No, I won´t give you that one. Who knows, maybe you will have the chance to read the full story one day.

What kind of things do you want to know about a protagonist? What could she be interested in? Does she dream of children, marriage and mortgage, or is that too early?

Some writers are excellent at creating vivid, three-dimensional characters that seem just as real as your neighbour. What exactly is it they do?

Any suggestions, ideas and tricks of the trade are most welcome.

19 kommentarer:

Uriah Robinson sagde ...

My daughter is also fanatical genealogist and temporarily, we hope, unemployed.
At 29 your protagonist must have a string of unsuitable boyfriends in her past and a few secrets.

Tim sagde ...

Even if she's not interested in children and marriage, there are quite likely to be others who are. Perhaps her mother ... or friends who have already settled down. Lots of scope there for story-conflict, major or minor.

For characters it seems to me that they work best where the descriptions hint at something bigger, something which the reader infers. However you want to avoid stereotypes -- real people rarely fit them exactly (well, maybe occasionally, for a time) -- so some quirk which goes against the stereotype, or doesn't seem to sit with it, can help make a character more real.

Hope that helps

Bernadette in Australia sagde ...

Has she always been unemployed? If not, what jobs has she done before? Why is she unemployed now? What does she do to fill her days? perhaps she does volunteering at an interesting place? an archives or something (when I worked at an archives we had an army of genealogy enthusiasts would do volunteer work for us)? Or perhaps she has a secret yearning to do latin dancing or learn an exotic language and goes to a night class? or she is an environmental activist and joins a local group of some kind?

Margot Kinberg sagde ...

Dorte - You bring up such an important question. If characters aren't multi-dimensional, they are less interesting. When I think about characters who are real to me, I think it's because I've learned some extra things about them. Not so many details that it's boring, but enough to make them interesting. For instance, Elizabeth Spann Craig's Myrtle Clover has a favorite television soap opera, Tomorrow's Promise. She also writes a newspaper column. Martin Edwards' Daniel Kind has an academic background, and that adds to his character, but he's also got an interest in gardening and the outdoors. It's those extra things that, to me, make a character interesting.

Poly sagde ...

Hi Dorte

Well, if she is boring and unemployed, why don't you create "A secret life" for her.
So that her otherwise "boring facade" is just to hide that she does the unthinkable! After all, she is 29 years old.

And if she is "just" dreaming of children, marriage and mortgage, that is not to early,
but it does sound a bit boring, (sorry), unless of cause, if you are writing a good old fashion romance/love story!

Be creative! Be adventurous!

You might have to do some research, but she could be a "A Secret Escort-girl".
As she is unemployed, so got plenty of time to sleep late in the day. Then she can go out and dine & dance at night, and have "New Adventures" according to the bureau booking!
Where she could "dress up" as the ONE she never became! Makeup, dresses, maybe a wig, etc.

You could also create another "Secret life". Such as having an affair, with a married man. That man could be well-known, or rich, and somewhere there, "something" goes wrong!

Maybe, she adopted or placed in care: "An unwanted pregnancy", which noone knows anything about!
(she could have been "An Aupaur Girl" to cover up!) Then they foster-parent dies, and what happenes when the Childcare Service, appears with her child on her doorstep!!

Or any-other secret life you can think of.

Have fun!

Cheers, Poly

Kelly sagde ...

I like it when an author really develops their character where I'd know if I might (or might not) want to know them in real life. I also like it when authors describe the protagonist's surroundings well enough that I can picture their home or workplace. That might include things like specific workmates, pets, cooking or eating related things, etc. Also knowing more about thier friends helps.

Of course this is all just from a reader's point of view....

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams sagde ...

29 is very young to have to take care of a father. I think you've really got plenty of conflict to work with....you could just ratchet it up a notch. She suddenly WANTS to do something very different than be in this situation. We probably need to be able to side with this protagonist, though....so it would be a little tricky to keep her from looking like she just doesn't want any responsibilities.

Humor is always a good tool. And what kind of a friend does she have? Does she have someone to spill her guts out to and tell all her frustrations to so we can get in her head a little?

Sounds like a good story, Dorte! Best of luck with the revisions. :)

Elizabeth
Mystery Writing is Murder

Dorte H sagde ...

Oh, you are so good!

Of course I cannot use all your ideas in one story, but I plan to give her more of a back-story.

And I know it sounds stupid to invent such a drip in the first place, but I intended to make her a bit bland at first with room for plenty development later - I just overdid it ;D

Louise sagde ...

I read through the comments and was also going to say that of course she should have a secret child from an unwanted pregnancy earlier in her life, but another one beat me to it :-) Maybe this secret child's father is a terrible person? Maybe the secret child has grown into some kind of serial killing kid? Scaaary. Always find diabolic kids scary!

Patti sagde ...

Sometimes it takes a long time to really know them. Just like it takes a long time to know yourself-if ever.

Dorte H sagde ...

Louise: funny that young, modern women are so fond of secret children :D The idea is interesting, but there are quite a number of skeletons in her family´s closet already.

Patti: wise words. But fortunately some characters are easier to write than others.

....Petty Witter sagde ...

I remember those cut-out-paper dolls, I loved them as a girl.

Most certainy not interested in marriage or children, your character will have had a long list of unsuitable lovers, some of them married, all of them a lot older (father figures?)

She will have had a fairly 'glamorous' childhood but with a cold and distant mother.

Dorte H sagde ...

Tracy: thank you for your suggestions, but having her look for father figures will perhaps be a bit unlikely as she has a dear father who is ill :D

Jane sagde ...

I am the right person to answer this question: I just turned 30 and happen to be a bit of a bore (according to popular opinion. I consider myself a highly interesting person)... Meaning that I don´t like to go out drinking much and prefer my own company in many situations.
I think you have to show that even a "boring" or quiet person can have a very rich innner life and a lot of imagination. Easier said than done, I know.

At 29, she is not necessarily desperate for a husband and a child (particularly not if she is a bit immature), but some people are probably starting to consider her a "tragic spinster".

Can you answer these questions about her:
- Where does she buy her shoes?
- If she does not have a boyfriend, will she still keep her legs free of hair?
- she must have a big dream of some kind. Is that family, career, traveling, writing a book or something else?
-what sparked her interest in history? Was it a book, a school trip to a museum or something else?
- would she rather watch "Desperate Housewives" than "Paradise Hotel"? (Don´t say none of the above. That is NOT an option).

Feel free to email me if you want to know more about being a boring 29 year old woman in Denmark ;-)

Dorte H sagde ...

Jane: it is not that I have to brush Anna up for my own sake either, but editors seem to want people who are more social (and more into shoes than me :D)

Great questions you ask, and I am considering giving her a secret addiction to the Twilight series.

I quite like Desperate Housewives myself, but I´ll have to google Paradise Hotel.

Jane sagde ...

I would love to read a book with a female protagonist who is very interested in shoes! What a lovely change...
If she is unemployed and have a lot of free time and is not overly social, I am pretty sure that she spends a lot of time watching TV and/or reading books. I know lots of really intelligent young women who love "Paradise Hotel" (and it is very hot stuff in the media right now, I have listened to about 15 clever P1 radio programmes about this show). Personally, I enjoy old episodes of "Top Model", but I think Paradise might be more to her taste...
Twilight is also an excellent addiction, but I think she is smart enough to prefer "True Blood", Anne Rice and stuff like that. If she does, she might dream of visiting New Orleans one day (or maybe she travelled in the Deep South already?)

Dorte H sagde ...

Jane: hm. If I was writing an English novel I would know exactly where to go to find my helpful shoe fetichist so I will try to remember your idea, but Anna´s neighbour is more the type than Anna herself. I will try to include more shoes there.

theodor sagde ...

Hi Dorte,

I look forward to reading this work of yours. Concerning how to make the protagonist more interesting, you might want to supply her with an inner demon or two. Something she's scared of or uncomfortable with. It can be ordinary phobias or it can be something caused by an event in her past. Maybe she's reluctant to make new friends because of previous experiences. Or she hates being perfect and always introduce minor flaws in what she does. Or the other way around... Or she hates kids, but doesn't want to show it.

If she has an objective, then give her an inner demon, that will she will have to conquer to solve her problems.

Good luck with it. 85,000 words aint no flash fiction.

Theodor

Dorte H sagde ...

Theodor: very fine advice, thank you! And coming from a writer who is excellent at creating compelling characters :D

But as you say, 85,000 words is not flash so it takes time to create the characters and make every scene convincing.