Got a solid list going? Awesome. Now take every word on that list… and try to think of a time when your character isn't that way.
I know - this sounds odd. But run with me for a second. When's the last time you were the exact same way, in every situation, with every person, at every time of day, in every emotional state? If you're human, the answer is probably… never. (If you're a robot, the jury is still out on that one.)
We like to think we have immutable selves: that I is I, and me and me. In elementary school, we're asked to describe ourselves in three words to the class, and the process of solid word-based identity formation continues from there - in the form of dating profiles, resumes, and Twitter descriptions. To be consistent, to always be me, is to be secure.
But the truth is, who me is can change, literally from minute to minute. And it's by looking at the differences between Me 1 to Me 2, not at the similarities, that you can learn the most about yourself - and about your character.
- A character who's clearly level-headed and sane may participate in an earth-shattering argument over the TV remote control… when their favorite show is on. (This character is seriously passionate about the things they like.)
- A character who's almost always friendly, relaxed, and peaceable may become completely irritable when faced with an overwhelming homework assignment. (This character doesn't handle pressure well.)
- A character who's cynical and sarcastic may become soft-hearted and nice when babysitting their four-year-old nephew. (This character is hardened but doesn't want to spread their hardness - they're secretly hopeful, which makes them vulnerable to having their hope crushed in an upcoming plot point.) (Sad!)
Here are some different situations you could imagine your character in, to see if who they are in each of them varies at all from the list of words you came up with at the beginning of this post. And don't forget to ask, why?
Is your character different…?
When they're with their best friend • When they're with someone they don't like • When they're at a party • When they're at the movie theater and the people behind them have been chatting loudly for the past 10 minutes • When interacting with a 3-year-old • When interacting with a 95-year-old • When they're alone for the night • When they're feeling overwhelmed • When a friend calls them at 3AM needing to cry about something • When it's their first day at a new job • When the spaceship they're on is about to be attacked • When they've just been named the heir to the royal throne • When they're betrayed • When they make a big mistake • When a person of authority is yelling at them • When a person of questionable authority is yelling at them • When they have to wake up early • When their favorite possession is missing • When they're under the influence of [insert substance of choice - like orange soda, right?]
I hope this post has been useful to your character-building endeavors! How are you different from situation to situation?