Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Write Well Wednesday: Creating the Active Character

Today's post is the second in a series on characterization.  To read last week's post go here: Creating the Physical Character

Today's topic is creating the active character.

Once you've established the physical characteristic of a character (what anyone might be able to see from a photograph), you're going to start the second dimension of your character's personality -- what people would see when your character is moving.  This is a secondary visual characterization, so think silent film.

A huge amount of human interaction can be boiled down to physical action and reaction.  We're incredibly expressive and, often, we take that for granted when we build characters.  So here, we will make sure that we cover this base.

1.  Quirk your character.  Everyone has at least one physical quirk.  Ask someone what yours is.  Do you chew on your lip or your nails?  Are you a leg jiggler?  Do you click pens, snap gum, twirl hair?  All these little things are physical traits that we take for granted, but subconsciously integrate into our physical profiles of the people we surround ourselves with.  Decide what you believe a certain character's quirk should be and then make sure that you sprinkle it in throughout your manuscript.  Like any trait, you don't want to mention it all the time because you'll start to annoy the reader.  A really ingenious way to build in quirks is by making another character notice it (because we don't often notice our own quirks, right?)

2.  Build your character's active presence.  Depending on the type of character your trying to create, you're going to give him/her a presence.  This can be both an active and static physical characteristic that other character's notice about the character in question.  Is the character passive?  Then make them stand off to the side, maybe hunch their shoulders or hide behind their hair.  How about that military man from the last post?  How would he stand?  Probably erect or at attention and his presence might somehow feel a little overbearing...Perhaps he looms over others or scowls a lot?

3.  Make the physical and emotional work with the active.  If you've got a tall character then make sure the way he walks and stands matches his physical characteristics.  Have you noticed that most seven feet tall people tend to stoop slightly?  Perhaps that's out of fear of hitting their heads or a need to bend closer to others to hear them or look them in the face?  What about an overweight person?  How would they walk and what sort of active challenges might they face?  Depending on how overweight they are they may have to turn a particular way to get through a turnstile at a train station or might need to constantly adjust their clothing.  If your character is depressed, make him drag his feet when he walks.  If she's high powered business woman who hunts demons by night, she probably walks quite confidently and stands proudly.

4.  Characters must save face!  I don't know how many books I've read where characters don't make facial expressions.  The likelihood of finding someone who never smiles or doesn't express their feelings through their eyebrows is pretty darn low.  How someone uses their face to express themselves can tell a huge amount about their personality and how they interact with others.  It can also tell us a lot about what other characters feel about them.  Is there something fake about their smile?  Does their joy reach their eyes?  Does the character arch one eyebrow or two?  Do they tend to use the physical instead of the verbal to express confusion or a question?  And don't forget!  If you make a facially expressive character, give them static physical features that might indicate this (i.e. wrinkles).

5.  Reaction.  Pretend you are producing a silent film.  You have no words to express how your character is feeling.  Someone just pulled a gun on your main character.  How is your character physically going to react?  Recoil?  An expression of defiance?  A deer in the headlights eye-widening?  Every action deserves reaction.  Any interaction between a character and his/her world or other characters will illicit some type of expressive or active response from the character.  Make sure these reactions fit with the personality you're trying to create for your character.