Sunday, March 27, 2011

Writing Improvements 3: No Character is Perfect

Yes, no character is perfect. Get that in your head.

Writing characters that live in a purely constructed world, it is very important to make sure that your characters are not as 'created' as the world you create.

Here are some ways that I've tried to make my characters more 'real':

1) Give them flaws.

Yes, this makes them real because you get to curse at them and  throttle their necks at times.


Fiona can get too childish at times despite the fact that she insists she's all grown up.
Alaron is a pain in the ass; cruel even to Fiona at times but she loves him unconditionally. 
Eian having to subject Amber to a mental conditioning simply because it is the best for the pack.

Another type of flaw is to give them a really tough background. I haven't been able to achieve this but if you've read JD Robb's In Death series for example, she starts her character, Eve Dallas as a victim of rape and abuse, left abandoned in an alley at the age of 8. This really creates a character that echoes with depth because we see all her flaws [swearing, nonchalance etc] and dig out her perfection [sense of justice, loyalty etc].

So you can do it either way~ giving flaws to an otherwise perfect character or giving perfection to an otherwise flawed one.

2) Show completely two opposing sides to them. Usually as a mental/emotional struggle.

This is very apparent when Eian goes all Betty Crocker when he finds out Fiona's pregnant. He's usually cool and collected and this contrast can be seen as a way for him to 'cope' with stress.

Draven losing all sense of rationality when he decides to 'kidnap' Amber when originally he was resigned to staying away from her for her safety.

3) Be mean to your characters

[I recently learnt this from Nalini Singh's blog:] I'm going to put what she says here because I find it really useful.

"Write down a list of five things that your hero/heroine would HATE to happen to them." Okay, easy enough. For example, my heroine in Craving Beauty would hate to be treated like chattel, to be valued for her beauty alone. That would be point one on my list.
Then the speaker delivered the stunning light-bulb-moment-inducing blow. She said, "After you make the list, have those things happen to your character." Yikes! Now, that's tough. It means you have to forget that these characters are your babies, your friends, your wonderful creations who must not be sullied and you have to start being mean.

I took that speaker's advice and ran with it, figuring out what works for me. I generally do make up a list of 'bad things which would completely destroy character's equilibrium' but whether it has five things on it or ten, depends on the story. Sometimes, I don't have to do all those things to them (yay), I just have to hint that it might happen. So for example, if a heroine is scared of people leaving her, the hero might be a military man who could one day leave her forever. How's that for instant conflict?

This technique works for both internal and external conflicts, but I use it mostly for internal, because I believe that twisting your characters's emotions inside out gives real emotional punch to a story. A romance is all about emotion, and in the end you must deliver on that promise…even if you have to be mean."

4) Keep a Character Log

Yes, as I mentioned in the previous post, I keep forgetting things. So keep a notebook or a microsoft document at least, of all your characters, their hair, eye colour, appearances and of course their personalities.

The personality part is very important because it helps you stay focused when you are writing.

For example, Dominic is supposed to be a melodramatic Cassanova so as much as possible when I write about him, I try to make him behave in either of those two characteristics.

A mistake that I made when writing the Hunters was that I kept no log and I kept confusing [and sometimes blurring] the personalities of the twins [Anya and Aurora] and somehow my Alpha male didn't turn out as strong as I'd like him to be.

NB: As a side note, under each character, for example an Alpha male- list out the ideal type of Alpha that you come across while reading others' work.
It will help you formulate your own type of Alpha~ be it the no- nonsense type, the cool reserved type or the dominant, aggressive type.

5) Variations on character types

Taking a leaf out of Nalini's writing [something I just discovered a week ago], experiment with many different types of characters and characterizations.

Characters need not always be the usual white, blue eyed, blond male/female. [or any of that variety]

The thing that holds me back about introducing other ethnicities into my writing is the fear that they will be rejected. We have been so conditioned to follow the norm that it is hard to break out of this bond.

However, if you noticed, I've started experimenting a little in Into The Vampire's Lair with the characters of Erika and Natasha. Erika's half Asian, half Irish and Natasha's a black Russian lady. So there you go.

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