This is the third post in my series about creating characters. If you missed the first two, follow these links- Let There Be Life and Types of Characters.
If you’ve been following along, by now you should have all the basic details of your character; their name, their family, the main parts of their personality. But unless you know exactly what you’re doing, your character will still feel flat. And that’s okay! Creating a person from nothing is difficult. And can I tell you a secret? I don’t have 3-D characters until my second draft! Shhh… Don’t tell anyone. I don’t know everything about my character until I’ve worked with them for a while. (Just like when you’re with real people. It takes a while to get to know them.)
It’s time to add the little nuances to your characters that make them real. Habits, nervous ticks, flaws, catch phrases, etc. etc. etc. And the biggest thing to remember when adding on more layers to your character is- RESEARCH!!!!!! But what am I researching? Oh, don’t even get me started…..
It’s very common for YA books to have characters with PTSD or PTSD-like symptoms. Guess what? If you have a character with PTSD, you can’t base them off of what you’ve read in other books. You have to research PTSD. Same thing with anxiety. You have to research everything.
Even stuttering. Did you know there are three different types of stuttering? And stuttering isn’t just having a character t-talk l-like th-th-is. There’s much more to it.
I realize that these two things are conditions, and not character flaws. But they can add a lot of depth to a character- if they’re done right. For example, one of my characters in Magic Stones, Ragnar, has PTSD from child-hood abuse. There are the normal things from that; don’t wake him up, don’t startle him. But there are other things as well. He won’t go in small, dark places. If he ever needs something out of the storage closet, he’ll send someone else, no matter how long it takes them to find something. That’s a quirk.
And someone who stutters? Often they don’t speak a lot or develop social anxiety from the fear of being mocked.
But there are other types of quirks, ones that are just habits. Jasper Stone (guess what book he’s from) has this odd little thing he does when he meets knew people. He rates them on a threat’o’meter. A very childish thing to do, but it sticks with him into adulthood.
You could have a character who, by nature, is very touchy. And by touchy, I mean they hug a lot and always try to be in physical contact with their friends. And if you have a character like this, you can pair them with a character who isn’t huge on physical contact. Fun times.
Quirks can also be so, so simple. Drumming fingers, bouncing their knee when they sit, adding a precise amount of milk to their coffee in the morning, really liking birds. A quirk is anything that takes them from being and archetype to a person.
However most quirks are pretty subtle. Yes, there’s always some that are blatantly obvious. But there’s others that you don’t always see at first, like crying over sad books, hating animal movies, being really concerned for their pet’s well being. Even if you never outright mention a subtle quirk, as long as you know it, it will most likely leak into your writing anyways.
But there’s something beside quirks you need. Character traits. These can be virtues or vices. And a tip for these; don’t straight up list them. Please. If your character thinks, I’m an intimidating bruiser but have a heart of gold underneath, I will put your book down immediately. Show, don’t tell. I beg of you. If you have a character who is loyal, show it in how they keep helping an old friend even though said friend is a shady, erratic, garbage fire who totally uses your character.
Again, don’t state your character’s vices an virtues. You just have to know them and let them bleed into your writing, planning some scenes to specifically show these traits if they’re critical to the plot.
And even if you’ve gone through dozens of character questionnaires, there’s no guarantee your character is going to end up being like that. In the first draft of Magic Stones and the Reign of Chaos, Aunt Mildred was kind and invested in the Stones’ lives. Now, she hates them because of the wrongs their father committed and does her best to avoid them entirely.
This is an important thing to realize. If you force your character to do something for the sake of your preconceived plot, your readers will notice. Trust me. Plot happens because of characters, not the other way around. So if what you’re writing goes against what your character would actually do, it’s time to change the plot. But we’re not covering plot right now, that’s for another time.
Good luck in all your endeavors, gar perki pargas.