Success only flourishes in perseverance -- ceaseless, restless perseverance.
--Baron Manfred Von Richtofen

Monday, June 6, 2011

How to Add Flavor to Your Vanilla Character

That was the title of the first panel I participated in at CONduit. We had a great discussion on character.

What comes to mind when you think of a vanilla character? Ordinary? Safe? Forgettable?

Yeah. Not want we want in our fiction, right? We want vibrant, dynamic, memorable characters. Characters that live in the readers heads and in their hearts.

So, how do you create them? My best advice in this arena is to observe people in real life. Yes, you might even consider eavesdropping. You have colorful characters all around you. Watch what people do. Listen to what they say. Try to imagine their motives, their feelings, their history. It's loads of fun.

Consider how setting affects your character. Where do they live? In what time period? What kind of culture do they come from? What kind of family? How does all of that affect them?

You can give your character quirks, but to just add quirks randomly is sort of cheating. Create quirks that really add depth to your character. One of the panelists gave the example of a character who stutters because when he was young his house was burning down and when he called 911, he was too frightened to be able to get the words out. Deeper than just a plain old stutter, right? One the main characters in my novel has a locket she wears with pictures of the family she never met. Whenever she's upset or feeling any strong emotion, she reaches for that locket. During the course of the story, the locket is taken from her. Then whenever she reaches for it out of habit and finds it isn't there, she is reminded again of all she's lost. That's the kind of quirk that works well.

Creating characters is probably my favorite part of writing. Great characters are definitely my favorite part of reading. So, take time to make sure your characters have a  little flavor to them. Don't we all want something a little more like this?

16 comments:

L.T. Elliot said...

I think this is something I struggle with. Part of it is dialogue. I'm not great at diversifying dialogue. =P

Theresa Milstein said...

The more I write, the better I get at adding the right quirks to my character.

I love your story of the locket and loss.

Larry and Cindy said...

Good ideas!!! I love your story that the girl has the locket and then it was taken. It adds such an emotional feeling!!

Rochelle said...

Getting my characters right is definitely an issue in one of my stories right now.
One of the things we did in my creative writing class to help explore characterization was to go out and just observe people. Then, based on what we observed, we wrote a paragraph talking to them about the kind of person they seemed. For example: "You sit alone, and your posture suggests that you are very aware of it." Something like that. It was really interesting and enlightening.

Angie said...

Thanks, Mom and/or Dad. I'm glad you like it. Rochelle, that sounds like a really helpful exercise to do. Good luck in creating your characters!

WindyA said...

Great pose. Even better visual aids. I'm off to find me some FroYo w/toppings now ...

Cher Green said...

As writers, we sure don't want plain vanilla characters. I love your take on this. Also, the locket issue is nice.

Cher Green

Monica B.W. said...

What's wrong with vanilla? It's my FAVORITE flavor!! (lol, just kidding! Great post!) :D

Tamara Hart Heiner said...

this is a great post, b/c who likes vanilla, really? (my husband does.) I think when I start a book, all of my characters are vanilla. totally boring. But by the end of the book, I've met them better, and they have sprinkles and gummy worms and oreo cookies mixed in. It's totally a fun process!

Brianna said...

Thanks for sharing these tips on character development!

Kathi Oram Peterson said...

Great parallel between blah characters and ice cream. I think I'm hungry. I'll take peppermint ice-cream with chocolate sauce. That would make a yummy character.

dellgirl said...

Very interesting, sounds like a fun weekend. Glad you enjoyed it and, thanks for sharing the experience with us.

However though, BlueBell Homemade Vanilla ice cream is nowhere near plain. If you haven't tried it you missing a Royal Treat.

Angie said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone. Just for the record, I do love plain vanilla ice cream, especially homemade in my ice cream maker. Just not plain vanilla characters. Have a great day all. =)

Chantele Sedgwick said...

What a fun analogy. Great characters really make the book, don't they? I love making them different. Even though I'm a vanilla kind of girl when it comes to ice cream. But, my characters are all sorts of flavors! :)

Diana said...

Hi, Angie, your blog looks awesome. I really appreciate the writing advice, it helps me to stay focused and hopeful. It was great to meet you today!

Maeve Frazier said...

Hi Angie - Developing charachters is my favorite part of writing, too. At the start of writing each story, I start with characte sheets. I fill out as much information as I can about each of my characters. Most of the time I will have more information than I need, but it helps to have a great visiual. I even sketch a quick illustration of what I think my character looks like. Great post by the way.