Ironing Out a Character

By Meagan Jones

The “Writer’s Workshop” blog posts are meant to be a collage of writer’s tips, tricks, and strategies, including the first steps to publishing, writing prompts, strategies for writer’s block, and a general jumble of ideas to help you in your quest to create and publish.

 

Name: John Everyman

Age: 37 Earth years.

Physical Description: He is every-man. He’s that dude. The dude you swore you’ve seen before, the one with the brown curly hair and sideburns, with blue eyes and a tall figure.

Fashion Sense: Mediocre. Wears a lot of T-shirts.

His Biggest Fear: Having all of his traits plugged into a questionnaire that’ll take his creator a bajillion years to fill out.

 

We’ve all been sucked into those 50-page-long questionnaires that are supposed to help you figure out who your character is, and why. You know the ones I’m talking about. I’ve attempted to fill one out multiple times, and it’s always been tiring, and ultimately, a waste of time.

My main problem with them is that they expect you to figure out a ton of information like his astrological sign, how much money the guy has in his bank account, or the exact date and time he dies. Unless that information is essential to know for what you’re writing, ultimately, it’ll just sit there, and you’ll forget about it (at least, that’s what always happens to me).

This wouldn’t be a huge issue if in the end, I actually grasped the character better. But mostly, what I found was that I was spewing information about the character as if it were some sort of object, and not an actual person. And that’s the whole problem.

Characters are meant to seem real. You’re supposed to be able to look at them and say, “Oh yeah, that guy could totally exist in real life. My buddy Jerry’s exactly like him.”

Once a person is broken down into a bunch of stats, they’re not really a person anymore. The same goes for a character.

Personally, I can’t really get a feel for a character even if I write down all his stats. What’s really helpful to me is to actually write about him – most of the time preferably outside of the events of the story.

What I think is usually preferable for this is to make the character do a really mundane chore. Something like washing dishes, mowing the lawn, or doing laundry. They can be doing this with or without other people around, but be sure to really think about the character. Make them your main focus.

What are they thinking about? Do they like doing this mundane task? Do they want to do it as quickly as possible? How does their personality affect what they’re doing? Do they yell at the dishes because they’re not getting clean? Do they talk to themselves? Do they get distracted? Really think about what they would do each and every step of the way through the chore.

This, at least for me, gives a better background, or basis, for me to go off of in the future – because most of the time, I won’t need to know their favorite Jonas brother. Personally, I think that it’s always better to get directly into the mindset of the character than listing off a bunch of stats.

And who knows? Maybe you’ll end up using that mundane scene in your actual work.