Saturday, May 18, 2013

3 tips to create realistic characters

Today I'm giving tips about characters. As you might have noticed during the A-to-Z Challenge, I have a lot of characters. So I wanted to share with you how I created them by sharing 3 things that I always do. The way of doing it varied over time and will surely still evolve as I learn more and more about writing. But it's mainly the current state of my character creating method.

But first a little warning. I have seen very in different places people creating characters using lists which I would call identity lists such as name, age, sex, religion, nationality, eyes color.... I'm not really sure that this is too helpful, at least it isn't really for me as my characters live in a different world where a lot of the things on the list don't really matter. What you are about to read here is totally different so you probably should use it differently as well. Second warning, the tips should be followed in order. Third warning, because I do it this way doesn't meant that it's the only way to do it and that you have to do it this way. This is just what's work for me and I hope it can help you if you are stuck with 3D characters. Anyway, I hope you'll enjoy.

Tips number one: List five flaws and five qualities of your character (or characteristics). 

I consider that went you decide to create a character, you already have the basic information about their identity and about what you want them to be which is one of the reason why I stated above that the identity list didn't seem too helpful for me. However what you might not fully know is what your character's drive is. What makes them happy and sad, what makes them react and be strong, what makes them cry and want to disappear, etc
Therefor, I think it is important to create a basic personality summarized by at least ten components. I think that ten is a good number because it forces you to create balanced character, nobody is either completely good or completely bad and people skills at what they do also vary. Also because coming up with 10 characteristic is not an easy thing and it makes your brain works so that all your characters don't end up with the same list of ten.

Here is an example: Let's say we are creating a female character who enjoy playing piano.

Proud, clumsy as soon as she is not sitting at the piano, oblivious, lepidopterophobic, self centered.
Dedicated,  clean and tidy, hard worker, generous, confident.

Tips number two: Create a small paragraph for each of the flaws and qualities of your character showing how they obtained them in the past.

So now we are to create a past for our character. Creating a past for a character even if the paragraph you are about to write don't ever appear in any novels or stories you are going to write in the future allows you to know them better. If you look at what happens with people, we generally tend to think that we know someone when we know a little bit of what happened to them in their past. You feel closer to someone once they have confided in you. It's the same for characters, let yourself have a pick into their past. Your character past will also teach you where they are going in the future and about their present reactions.

Let's now create a small paragraph for our pianist when she was about five years old and discover why she became lepidopterophobic. I'm going to call her Lizzy. (I was reading Pride and Prejudice and Zombie two days ago.)

Lizzy was outside the house playing in the garden with her father. It was a nice summer day and perfect weather to catch butterflies. Her father was really good at it, he would wait until the butterfly stopped on a flower and fold it's wings together, then quickly grab them between his thumb and index finger. Lizzy was looking at him amazed her heart jumping of excitement in her chest every time he caught one and happy to see it fly again when he released it. Now it was her turn to try and she was walking slowly toward the bush of flowers. She didn't think butterflies could hear but she was sure that they could feel her coming, two had already escaped. Her father was encouraging her as she prepared her fingers at the back of the butterfly. It was a beautiful blue butterfly with black lines all around its wings. Her father had told her its name but it was a complicated word and she had forgotten. She was concentrating on the butterfly. She closed her fingers and caught the wings, the butterfly didn't even move, it was finally hers, her first butterfly, she smiled proud of herself and showed it to her dad receiving all the praises she wanted.
"Now you can let it go", he said with a smile.
But Lizzy ran away to the kitchen.
"I want  to show it to mummy!" she said laughing.
She pushed the handle of the kitchen door with her free hand. Her mum was cleaning the dishes, drying up a glass with a towel.
"Mummy, mummy, look what I got", Lizzy said happily presenting the butterfly to her mother.
Her mother took a step back and another, intense fear readable on her face. 
"Take that thing away from me", she said with a dry voice still drawing back.
Lizzy came a bit close, the smile disappearing from her face. 
"But I just caught it!"
"Take that thing away", her mother yelled letting go of the glass in her hand to cover her eyes as if to make the frightening sight disappear. But she was still looking, between her fingers. The glass broke into hundred pieces as it hit the tiling. Lizzy released her grip of the butterfly, afraid by her mother reaction. It flew near the window behind her mother who squat on the floor, hurting her hand with the pieces of glass unable to take her eyes away of the butterfly as the blood leaked from her cuts. Lizzy stood silent like petrified, not knowing what to do.

One other good thing about writing paragraphs is that it also help your creativity. I believe that having the above representation in mind every time Lizzy sees a butterfly will help you write better than if we had said: Lizzy is lepidopterophobic because her mum is. 

Tips number three: Create a small paragraph for each of the flaws and qualities showing how the character is affected by them in the present.

Now that you know everything there is to know about your character's past and  characteristics, it is time to show how those affect them in their present life. The paragraph that you will write in this third step will serve as references for your character's behavior. When placed in the same situation, they will definitely behave in the same manner. This will also save you time and energy when editing because you will how if it sounds right and consistent or if it doesn't. Another great idea is to create paragraphs which encompass more than one characteristic, it makes the character even more believable. 

Let's now see what her lepidopterophobia does to Lizzy and I will try to hide more of her characteristic in them (even though I haven't developed them fully as Lizzy has been created solely for this post purpose) .

Lizzy had turned on the air conditioner and fixed the temperature again with precision. They had touched it again. Some people were unbelievable. Didn't they know that the temperature would affect the pitch? Weren't they managing the orchestra hall? She wondered again why she was working with such amateurs. Jeff had said it was the best of her, to come back to her country side city and to give a charity concert, showing that she cared was good for her image. She didn't care much, she would give money to cancer research every year but her music, that was one thing she couldn't give, she had work too hard to be where she was now, long hours of practice into the night. She would practice until her finger tips bleed, her music was hers, she couldn't give it away like this, to people who wouldn't  even appreciate all the subtlety of her skills. She already missed New York. She walked back to the piano to make sure that nobody had touched anything. She was used to fix all the little details the day before. It was a ritual she had created to make herself feel at ease, so that she was sure to have a good night sleep before the concert. 
She made sure the sit was where she left it. She had put marks on the floor because the people around were so unreliable. She lift of the cover of the piano, the white and black key were alternating making her smile. And suddenly her eyes felt on it. It was resting on the keyboard, the black lines on it's yellow wings staring at her. She let go of the cover taking few steps back unable to take her eyes away from where the butterfly had been. The cover felt harshly on the keyboard. Lizzy was still walking away from it, looking at it fixedly only seeing the butterfly which was put of sight. Her heal hit the black cable of the microphone on the ground and she felt making the content of her purse scatter on the floor. 
"Lizzy, what is it?"
Jeff's voice seemed to make her wake up. She stopped starring at the piano and gathered her belongings with shaking hands, trying to regain her composure, she couldn't let him see her like this. He came closer trying to help her but she pushed his hand away and stood up.
"There is trash on the keyboard. Make sure it's cleaned before tomorrow's concert." she said leaving the room without a look back. Once out of sight she try to regain her breath and to forget the butterfly. She shouldn't have come back here, she hated the place.   

We can see her that there are several characteristic of Lizzy  coming into play in this small part. I hope you enjoyed the tips and that you found them helpful
Let me know what you think and how you create your own characters. 

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