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Many people have many different ways of figuring out how to make realistic characters. Some people’s characters talk to them, which sounds to me like a really great way to get to know a character. However, my characters don’t talk to me. When I’m sitting there, eating lunch, I don’t have a character randomly say, “Hey Kaitlin! I like oranges and am really messy. Just so you know. Also, I’m totally not feelin’ Love Interest. Pick me a different one, would you?”
This led me, over time, to the whole “character profile” method. Google “Character chart” or “Character profile” and you’ll find tons of them. Even those MySpace survey type things work. The problem is, you can spend hours on these things. It’s not like you can do it for just one character. You should know your supporting characters as well as you know your main character (or at least close!) because they’re all in the story for a reason. And, honestly, I didn’t feel like I was learning enough about my characters filling out profiles. It was fun. I liked imagining what my characters’ favorite colors were and where they liked to hang out after school (if they were in a contemporary setting, that is), but I didn’t feel like I was learning anything useful about them. And really, some of these character profile things have GREAT questions. How characters feel about themselves. What would throw their lives the most into turmoil. Greatest weaknesses and strengths in their personalities. I'm definitely not anti-character profile, and in fact still have one saved in a word document for inspiration.
So I asked myself what I was really trying to learn by doing character charts, or by willing my characters to speak to me (willing them to do it doesn’t make them any more likely to do it, by the way. This seems to be an ability you need to just…have), and I discovered what I was missing: the why.
I could give my characters personalities. Could even give them some motivation to be that way. But what I was missing was the deep down dark inside reason why they were like they were. Because everything we see and do and hear and watch others do affects what we do, whether good or bad. Once I started thinking about that, really thinking about it, I started to feel like I understood my characters better than I ever had before.
It sounds totally simple in retrospect, and maybe some of you reading this are wondering, what on earth is she rambling about and does she have a point?
I do have a point. And that point is: if nothing quite seems to be working for you, ask yourself what’s missing. You might feel like an idiot for having to wonder, but you’ll feel so. much. better. when you figure it out.