Monday, June 30, 2014

Crafting Your Best Story - Writing Tip #14 - Characters Who Have, uh, Character

Why do we sometimes say that a person we know is "quite a character"? You know the type I'm talking about. This person is distinctive, amusing, mystical, humorous, larger than life,etc. In a word Interesting.

Characters in a book can't be run of the mill. They need to be interesting, so that your readers will want to hang out with them for the course of the book.  No one wants to be exiled to yawnsville when they start reading.

So, how do you make your characters interesting? It's all in the details.

For instance, I wrote a Middle Grade that was based on a story I'd written when I first started writing.  The MC is forced to visit his grandfather who lives in a small town. This is the scene where he meets up with a couple kids down the street. The original reads like this:
  "Hi Tim. It's me Nathan." He didn't say anything.  "I'm here for the summer."
Tim kept silent, narrowed his eyes and glared at me. He finally said, "Nice hair-do" in that sarcastic way where you know he doesn't mean it. What's wrong with my hair? I wondered. My hand instantly went to my head. I had just been to the barber. Then I noticed that Tim hadn't had a haircut in a while. At least not a good one.  
  "Where's Mikki?" I said. Tim stood up. I noted he was tall for eleven, about the same height as me. Then he just walked away. I was flustered at this cool reception and started kicking small rocks in the street, trying to figure out what to do next. Just as I was about to leave, Mikki walked around the corner with two little girls following behind her. 
What's wrong with it?  Well, besides being boring.....oh, that's enough, it's boring!  Who'd want to hang with these people for a whole book?
This is the current version, from IT'S A LITTLE HAYWIRE. You'll notice name changes, a change in the MC's voice and perspective, as well as in the secondary characters. Notice also, the details sprinkled in. 
        I can't breathe. I rest my hands on my knees, feeling stupid. Why didn’t I stop to catch my breath before I rounded the corner looking like a feeble dweeb?        
       Mikki and Mason don’t say a word, just stare at me, eyes narrow and searching.      
       "Hi Mikki. Hi Mason,” I say once I can inhale and exhale again like a normal human being.    
        “Well, if it ain’t Owen True.” Mikki's voice is stretched and thin, like she’s forcing herself to be friendly.       
      Mason's lips turn up in a smirk. “Nice hair-do.”  My hand automatically brushes across the top of my head. My Mom made me get my hair buzzed for the wedding. Mason snorts then gets up and goes inside. Two little girls come out at the same time, skipping down the steps.   
          “Oh crickets,” Mikki says. “Opal and Ruby, you two need to clean up this mess. What do you think this is? A pig pen?” I’m glad she hadn’t asked me. I'd be forced to lie.
            Mikki stands up as if to supervise. She props her hands on her waist and her pointy elbows stick out on either side. The triangular spaces remind me of space shuttle wings. I bet she’d like to just fly off if she could. Get outta Haywire. I feel a little sorry for her then.  Even though I’m stuck here for the whole of August, at least I get to leave when it’s over.
I'm hoping this example explains what I'm trying to say, better than my trying to describe the difference. To form interesting characters you need character arc, felt need, distinctive character voice and details.  How about you? Do you have anything to add? What do you do to give your characters character?
We'll talk more about the need for details in the next post.

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