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Character Chaos

New YA Highway contributor Kody Mekell Keplinger also joins us from Teens Writing for Teens, a spectacular blog crafted by talented teenage writers. For more about Kody, visit our Who We Are page.

Many, many people will disagree with me, but I am of the strong opinion that characters are the greatest tools a writer can use to drive a plot. Characters can make or break a book. Characters are, in my view, the most valuable piece of the writing puzzle.

So screwing them up can really screw you over.

Being that character building is by far my favorite aspect of the writing process, I have organized a few quick tips for helping you create solid, three-dimensional characters. Don’t look at it as work; look at these exercises as fun ways to release your inner crazy without getting the funny looks at the supermarket. (Hey, if you’re a writer, you know exactly what I mean.)

So here are my ideas:

Character Maps
No, I’m not telling you to go all Dungeons and Dragons or anything, so no need to get out those dice just yet. Actually, the types of character maps I use are quite different. Sit down and come up with some fun categories. Here are some of my personal favorites:

  • Favorite Movie
  • Favorite Food
  • What’s Their Theme Song?
  • Deepest, Darkest Fear

Once you have a nice long—or short, your choice—list of categories, try to go through and answer all of the information about each of your characters. Wait, wait! There’s a catch. Because doing it normally would just be too easy, right? No fun. So, instead, answer all of the questions in your characters’ “voices.” Because your character may have a favorite movie, but that might not be the movie they’d tell others. While you might imagine Adam Brody playing your leading man, that said leading man might imagine himself as more of an Orlando Bloom. See what I mean?

Basically, this is just a fun, easy way to get into your characters’ heads and learn fun things about them along the way!

Role Play
Again, I ask that all D&D fans put their dice away. I’m referring to a different kind of role play here. Actually, the best role playing for this type of exercise is found online. My suggestion is that you pick a few characters and join one of the many possibilities for role play activity. Allow your characters to interact with others, forcing yourself to think of how your character would react to situations you might not have foreseen. Not only does this help you get to know and develop your character, but it’s fun, too!

And there are many outlets for online role playing. You could always get to a general role play site, such as Gaia Online, or gather a small group of fellow writers and create a sort of voice game/role play on a forum. I know several aspiring writers who do this. It can be challenging, fun, and incredibly entertaining all at once. Trust me; your characters may surprise you.

Alternate Points of View
Your book may be completely written from Character X’s point of view, but Character Y has an opinion, too. So why not write it? Okay, maybe don’t include it in the manuscript—you might throw a few people off—but do it for your own benefit. During a fight, your main character may have some strong opinions of the bitch she is yelling at. But what about her opponent? What does she think of the situation? This is a very fun way to create believable and interesting villains. Knowing what other characters are thinking can definitely put a spin on a scene. Once you have the other points of view, look back at the original scene. Do these other characters’ thoughts show in their actions? They should.

Remember, plot is important, too, but I have read many books with fabulous, fabulous plots where the characters had no appeal, which ruined the book for me. And, by the same token, I have read books with super cliché, unimaginative plots where the characters took me in with such intensity that the weak plot didn’t matter. Personally, I find loving a character much easier than loving a plot.

So the next time you start to hear a character’s voice in your head or when you just don’t think you “get” them, try one (or all, whatever) of these steps. They’re fun. They’re challenging. They can lead to complete character chaos. But, hey, it’s better than making people think you’re schizophrenic. And who knows? You may learn a few things about your characters that you never knew before. And that’s always an exciting experience.

--Kody Mekell Keplinger
Kirsten Hubbard

Kirsten is the author of Like Mandarin, Wanderlove, and the middle grade novel Watch the Sky.

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  1. This is great stuff, Kody! I love your idea of writing a scene through another character's viewpoint.

  2. Great post, Kody! Developing characters is my favorite part of writing. Love 'em or hate 'em, I want people to get attached to them. Writing from the other character's perspective is a great idea.

  3. Sometimes writing a single scene with multiple people takes me a really long time because I analyze from every person's POV and how they would be acting or what they would say.

  4. Great post, Kody--and fantastic advice! I'm passing this on to some writer friends...

  5. Great post Kody! I admit I am a pantster through and through. I have never done any kind of character mapping or GMC or anything. A friend once gave me this gem: "Take the worst thing that could happen to a character, and make it happen."

    That's about the extent of my character development!

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. Hey, my comment vanished! :(

    Well, I did this by accident once- I got POV happy in the first draft, then cut down during revising. So lots of big scenes had to be written from a new POV. Definitely added an interesting perspective.

    Great post, Kody!

  8. Thanks for the ideas, Kody! Loved your post. I think character mapping is so much fun - who doesn't like to make up a whole new person? I have found that if I google "character map" or "character chart" that I find lots of premade maps I can borrow.

  9. This is awesome, Kody! Thanks so much for the advice:)


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Item Reviewed: Character Chaos Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Kirsten Hubbard