MAKING HUMAN CHARACTERS
Today I offer a guest post about making human characters, by Susan Wingate.
"Whenever a story presents itself, usually a main character walks onto the stage of my mind and begins to talk and behave and seem human enough. The character takes on some bodily form. They usually have a problem that they want to tell me about and I usually want to listen to them.
When one of these characters stories is compelling enough, I’ll begin charting out an outline. It’s that typical three-part outline:
With the beginning parts consisting of character, conflict and setting. For me, if I don’t nail down the character’s personality, looks and conflicts (internal and inherent) right away, the story will get leggy on me and begin to drift toward no man’s land. So, to make sure I can understand my character fully, I begin with a basic character analysis checklist and then begin to dig even deeper. There are tons on the internet.
These are some points you might consider when you begin your next story:
Those Developmental, Early Years:
- When/where was your character born? In the U.S. or abroad? Where in the U.S.? The south or the north? The east coast or the west? In a city or in the country?
- To whom was she born? What was their heritage? How far removed are the parents from their heritage? First generation or 10th? Is the mother dominant or is the father? Did both parents work or did one stay home? Then, which parent stayed home–the mother or the father?
- What is the story surrounding her birth? Was it a difficult birth? Was she born on the ferry on the way to the hospital?
- How did she progress from infancy to toddlership (0 to 2 years)? Think in terms of the parents’ AND the character’s viewpoint) Was there a sense of happiness about your character’s progress? unhappy? concerned? worried for her life? Was she distracted by loud sounds or not? Did she cry a lot? Sleep all the way through the night, or was she up all night long? Was she breastfed or bottle? Did she take to the nipple easily or did she reject it? Did she start speaking before the average, on average, or slower than average? How was her walking? Eyesight? Did she rock in her highchair?
- How did she progress from toddlership (2 to 4 years)? Did she seem removed from children her same age or did she get along well with other kids? If she played with other children, did she share or was she stingy? Was this of her own doing or was her distance from others outside of her control? Was she reading at her level by now or was she far-advanced or slower than average? When she colored with crayons did it seem controlled or messy? Did she point a lot? Was she chatty or reserved? Was she healthy at this age or did she require special medical assistance?
- How did she progress from 4 to 5 years old? Did she seem happy playing by herself? If not, did the parent distract her with other things, like TV or noisy “educational” or “coordination-building” toys? Did she want to go to preschool or did she hate going to school? What did she notice as routine around her house? Did her parents fight often? Did they smoke? Drink? Did one parent clean too much/too little? Did she have any pets by this age? If so, what–a cat, dog, bird, gerbil, hamster, fish? Did she prefer to stay in her bedroom by herself or out with the family? Did she feel things a lot, rub her hands against curtains and fabrics? Did she prefer rocking chairs to ones that didn’t rock.
- Overall Years 0 to 5? Were grandparents around much? If so, which ones–maternal or paternal? Did the maternal & paternal grandparents get along? Did either set unduly spoil your character or did they pretty much follow the rules set out by her parents? Was there a sense of comfort or discomfort when grandparents arrived? Was the environment a quiet one or a loud one and why?
- From 5 to 10; 10 to 12; 13 to 18; then 19 to 29; 30 to 39 and so on…
Continuing to map out important instances in my character’s life to whatever age she is when the story begins. Doing so makes you go deep into your character’s psyche to the point of becoming real.
Does that sound crazy? Okay. Now you know. Try it anyway. Try her on. Put her on like a costume and zip her skin up over your head and become that character.
Once you go this deep, whenever your character walks onto stage, she’ll be acting and talking exactly the way you would expect her to."