13 Dec 2017

Character 101

I have been wanting to do this post for a while. I just finished my retelling for the Roogle Wood Press contest and I am working on getting the edits done.

It's harder then it sounds, because at this point I want to set my manuscript on fire.
Hopefully with some polishing, I will be able to send it off with confidence, fingers crossed.

I have been getting varied feedback on my story. It's nice to get different opinions on it. The one constant bit of praise I have been receiving is for my characters.

I'm glad that people enjoy them as much as do. They're all a bunch of hellions. 

I want to say, I don't think or claim to know much about writing. All my experience comes from being an avid reader and writing as a hobby for twelve years. I am an amateur, I just thought I would give my opinion on what makes a character come to life, and what makes one flat.

1. Description Dumping.

I feel like everyone already knows about info-dumping. It's one of the big writing no-nos. I don't think I've heard anyone mention this. This one is going to take some explaining and maybe some examples.

For starters, just know I love description and I use and perhaps overuse it. You do need description. You do have to describe your characters for your readers. It's all in the execution, how and when you do it. I for one hate when I open a book and on the first page the author feels the need to describe the character in excruciating detail. Down to their slightly crooked nose. It drives me nuts, especially when we are in that character's pov.

You might be thinking, isn't that a good thing. You want the reader to know what your characters look like.I know, I used to do the exact same thing. The day I started treating my characters like actual people was when my writing improved dramatically. I for one have never woken up and acknowledged that, I was of average size, with large brown eyes, and long chestnut colored hair. I don't acknowledge it because I am already well aware of the fact.  So is your character.

I might however notice deep bags under my eyes and a film on my teeth from forgetting to brush the night before.It's okay to hold details back. Your readers will fill in the blanks if you guide them enough. In 'The Raven Boys' Meggie Stiefvater doesn't give you a complete description of Blue and she is the main character, we get most of what we know her to look like from Gansey's pov.

Use other characters to sneak in bits about your character, but make sure you don't over do it. Think of what runs through your head when looking at another person. It usually isn't poetic and gooey.

2. Telling us what your character is.

This one might bug me more than the first one. I see this way to often even in popular best selling books. Never tell us your character is brave, smart, beautiful, courageous, cool, intelligent, evil... etc. The second you say it, er write it. I can't take it seriously. I won't believe it, especially if the character's actions contradict it. You can have a different character imply things about your character, but never tell us. Show us.

I was reading 'Stalking Prince Dracula' we are constantly told by the character and others how clever she is.

She is not.

(Cringing because I probably do this all the time)

3. Superficial characters 

On to my third and final point. Because I could honestly rant about this for hours, and I needed to stop myself somewhere. You know those character worksheets that people fill out with things like your characters favorite color, birthday, and favorite food. Scrap it!

Okay, let me explain. These are fine things to know about your character, they are. They just don't matter in the grand scheme of things. They also turn your character into a bunch of facts on a piece of paper. Don't do that, it's okay to not know everything about them. Treat them like people, they have layers, emotions, and heart.

Focus on establishing their voice, their quirks, and mannerisms. That's what will make them stand out. Also let them be human, let them be awkward, make dumb mistakes. Sometimes they won't know the reason they are behaving in a certain way. You don't have to explain their every move.

Rant over, I now realize this was for me. I have victimized myself.


  1. haha, I enjoyed this post very much Skye!

    I think I'm guilty of a couple of these as well. I tend to use WAYYY too many adjectives, and telling...oh me heavens so me.


    1. I'm glad, I was worried people would take it too seriously.

      I think everyone is. It's hard not too.

  2. YESSS to this post! Because you're like the character creating QUEEN. I love all your characters so much! Even if I haven't read their stories! Your character posts are my FAVE.

    This was all such solid advice! I think I'm tooootally guilty of description dumping. I've been trying to work on it, but I think I still fail. XD "Think of what runs through your head when looking at another person." <-- THISS! This is such a good idea! I've never thought of that! :O I'M PUTTING THIS INTO PRACTICE. (Also the Emperor's New Groove gif was so perfect I literally had to stop reading for a moment because I was laughing so hard. Best gif usage EVER.)

    Oh man, it's sooo annoying when a book explicitly TELLS us something about a character. And it's even worse when the character doesn't even act that way. Just...no.

    You make a lovely point about character sheets turning characters into facts on paper and not REAL people. I actually use character sheets, but they're basically just descriptions of the character's backstory and maybe things like what types of clothes they wear, who they're related to, etc. Basically just things to help my goldfish memory keep everything straight. XD I never go into the likes and dislikes and birthdays and stuff. Because I think they best way for a character to come alive is to just let them loose on the page, not force them into being something specific. *nods*

    This was fantastic! Thank you so much for sharing with us!

    1. Aww, Christine! I wish. I'm so glad someone does. That is such a nice thing to say... THANK YOU!

      I'm guilty of it too. I feel like writing is a cycle of making mistakes and trying to correct them and making different ones. I always try to keep that in mind, so the description doesn't sound stilted.
      I have been waiting to use that gif.

      It drives me crazy.

      Just something to keep in mind, but to each his own. Those ones are better than some I've seen. I use pinterest as a way to keep a visual record. I do write things down, I just make a point of not telling the reader. Agreed, I think your doing it right then.

      Thank you so much!

  3. That Ezma gif though. I'm dying. It's perfect.
    YESSSSS!! So much yes. This is fantastic. Funny thing, I've never looked at myself and said I'm rather short, with choppy short hair and really bad highlights, with a handful of scars on my face that require makeup at all times. Odd, isn't it? Definitely agree with point number one.

    Definitely on number two as well. The only time I'm ok with it is if someone else says it about the character. I still thing its a little lame even then, but at least it can be masked as that character's opinion and not the author trying to force that image upon us.

    And yes yes yes!! I love doing the worksheets, just so I know the characters, but I hate reading a story where you can tell that the author did the worksheet. That info is for the writer to know, so that the themes they write into the story match the character, but we don't need to be given all those facts.

    Spot on. Carry on, ol' chap.

    1. Emperor's new Groove is comedy gold.

      Thanks! I think your highlights are great! Glad I'm not alone in this.

      Agreed, it can be done well, but probably better to let the reader come to their own conclusion.

      If they work for you, I say do them. I guess I was more just saying not to rely on them to build your character. Exactly!

      Thank you, Cheers!

  4. I found this very helpful - thank you!

    1. Oh good, glad I could help!
      Thanks for reading it.

  5. I AM WITH YOU ON EVERYTHING YOU SAID HERE!!! I think a lot of this has to do with showing the reader what the character is instead of telling them. You're so right as soon as the writer states what the character is I am questioning there actions the whole book... AHA! I loved this post! <3

    1. Awesome! I was worried people would think I was being rude. I agree, I guess most writing mistakes are because of that.

      It makes any book really hard to read. I'm glad!
      Thank you for reading it! <3

  6. *applauds* Awesome tips! I totally agree, especially on the telling what your character is! If the character actually fulfills expectations, it's not so bad, but I find far more often that they don't. The author says they're smart; they act like they haven't got any brains. The author says they're brave; they're actually being boneheads. This also happens when other characters will say something about the main, and I'm just like, "BUT IT'S NOT TRUE!!!!"

    So yeah. Definitely better to show it instead and just let the reader come to their own conclusion. :p

    And then the character questionnaires! I stopped filling them out when I realized I barely used them in the actual story (though they are kind of fun sometimes). Perhaps they can be valuable to some writers, but I personally discover all that matters in the course of writing their story and discovering who these precious little humans are.

    Love all that you've said here!


    1. Thanks Alexa! That is one of my biggest pet peeves while reading. Agreed, it's kind of humorous because it's like the characters are rebelling against the author.

      Showing is always better in my opinion.

      Me too, I had so many, but I never ended up using them anyway. I think it's more fun to let them tell you things on their own too!

      Thanks, I'm glad!