Character Creation and Development: Patterns

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How do you distinguish one character from another in your story? Do you actively seek to maintain that difference, or do they all blend into a half-this-half-that narrative voice? Do they all react similarly to what you throw at them, no matter who they are and how they‘re supposed to approach life?

These are important questions for every fiction writer to address, and return to regularly.

When giving our characters life and then following them through a plot, there are two things we can monitor to make sure they are true to themselves: Dialogue and physical actions and reactions.
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Dialogue

Each person has a unique pattern of speech. This is a fact. We use some words more than others, we use certain phrases, certain structure… Some of us tell a story in one short sentence that others might tell in a five minute speech. This makes us easily recognized in a room full of people, at least to those who know us.

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It all begins with voice

Identifying your characters’ speech pattern is similar to finding your writing voice. I’d advise you to go dig into a few articles on the topic and see what exercises and tips they offer. My personal favorite is over at Men with Pens: “How to find your writing voice“.

When familiar with the concept, or if you are already, apply the knowledge to your character development. Give your heroes voices you feel match the personality you already mapped out and developed to some extent.

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To each his own

The first round of voice-casting is easy. You might want your character to sound uptight, young or old, naive, uneducated or snobbish… General terms are easily applied and that‘s a good start, but you’ll want to take it a step further.

Give each character some character! Your snob might over-use “rather” and tend to start every story with “when we were at the summer house recently…”  Your eager twenty-something student might fit “dude” into every other sentence and misuse some common phrase…

You catch my drift. Dialogue is often a major part of fiction and we want our readers to feel the diversity of our characters through that obvious medium.

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Physical action & reaction

Just like with dialogue, physical actions follow a pattern. Each person tends to blush under similar circumstances, laugh at similar things and go through a spike in blood-pressure during similar experiences. Sometimes we do this unconsciously, sometimes knowingly. Your characters are no exception, or shouldn’t be.

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Stop cracking your knuckles!

Little habits and quirks go easily unnoticed until we focus on them. If you’d study someone’s movement and reaction to situations, people, words… You’d soon see how he scratches his beard a lot when he’s thinking, his foot is constantly on the move when he’s bored and he’s much more comfortable with man-to-man touch when watching football…

These little things pile up and form a living breathing person you can easily write realistically, and in a way that registers to your readers. (I bet you already pictured that guy I described!)

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It‘s in the details

Focus on what makes each of your characters unique. It doesn’t have to be a major thing, it might be as trivial as wrinkling his nose when things smell bad, just make sure you have a little (or a lot) that defines them.

Your readers love to feel like they know your characters, and with every quirk you put out there you give them something to build on. Just make sure you don’t go over the top and create a character that is nothing BUT nervous habits.

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Following the patterns

As you write your story and your characters develop into multidimensional people, practically leaping off the page, take some time to re-visit those original thoughts. Your characters might grow out of some habits and adopt new ones, but over all they should be consistent.

The same goes for their voice. Their dialogue style might change a little through the course of the story, but they should be recognizable as the same person. Right?

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To make it easy

Create a little list of identifying patterns for each character, put it with your other character notes. Use examples, such as: “angry = bites lower lip, says “okay” a lot, doesn’t make eye-contact”. Then, when you need to check on how you’re doing, you consult the list. It’s also a very convenient tool to use when writing new scenes.

What you get from doing this, thinking about this, is a clear sense of difference and identity amongst your characters. You become aware of the nuances that shape your written dialogue and relationships. You find fresh angles and points of view by understanding your heroes better.

Isn’t that what we‘re going for?

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1:100:1000

She expected the world to turn upside down, at least tilt. She expected flowers to wilt and trees to shed their leaves. She expected time to halt, air to freeze, people to notice. She expected impact. Change.

Day 1.

She waited for the tears, the agony. She waited for the heartbreaking memories and the deep sense of emptiness. She waited for life to crash down on her.

Day 100.

And so,
under this curtain of
unbroken white and filtered blue,
I find, in
the corner of my eye,
an image or a shadow.
And I feel both relief
and another wash of sorrow.
We need to part ways
yet again.

Day 1000.

And so,
the curtain of white is
finally letting some light through, and
thinking of you doesn’t hurt
(as bad).
Your smile lingers
and reminds me of
how beautiful you were.
Are.
We don’t part ways anymore.

Light in its Natural Habitat

ABC poem.

Another day has begun,
brighter than the one before.
Cool breeze whispers on my window,
dew glitters on the grass.

Everything seems easier now.

Finally.

Giddy as a child, I
head for the woods.
In a day like this,
Jesus is in the trees…

Kidding, kidding!

Let us find peace amongst those branches,
moss-covered trunks and the little flowers.
No light is as fragile as
on the leaves and the
petals of those flowers.

Quiet and calm, but still bursting with life.
Riveting,
somehow.

Take this day as it comes, it will.
Under every sky is a
vulnerable flower and a
witty companion to take you to it.

X many mornings from now,
you will find yourself exploring the
zoological existence of light, in its natural habitat.

Go on.

Dragging her feet
making her way towards whatever she
has to face that day.

Eyes glazed and gray
hair tangled as if soaked and woven
everything is slow.

Maybe she cares
but now that she’s over the first hindrance
she doesn’t listen.

Hands in her pockets
as if digging for lost treasures in there
not that she’d find any.

Dragging her feet
postponing the soon-needed decision
because of that truth.

Wish I Could Get Lost

Dawn breaks,
white mist hides the
familiar shapes of houses, trees, mountains.

Kid awakes,
the air is damp and
chilly as I drop’em off to daycare for a while.

I crawl back into bed and
convince myself I have nothing better to do
but be comfortably hidden under sheets and covers.

For a couple of hours I’ll not be here, I’ll have no voice, no presence.

I’ll greet the day at noon.

My phone rings and I
can’t sleep with it screaming for me
like a desperate reminder of my whole life of responsibilities.

I guess I’ll be here after all.

Shut up Songbird

I’ve stayed for too long
my voice is turning harsh and unforgiving.
My words don’t sound like songs anymore.
I should know better by now, after all this time,
but I couldn’t let go when the melody caught me.

I’ve stayed for too long
I can’t believe my head isn’t empty yet.
The trouble with constantly creating,
within my head or on paper slash keyboard,
is how to not.

I’ve stayed for too long
my voice is drained of all it’s juices.
I shouldn’t utter another word but
I keep singing, humming, pretending that’s not
doing any damage.

I’ve stayed for too long
the same way I always have and
probably always will.
Selfdestructive actions are,
after all,
what being an artist is all about?

Shut up, songbird.

5 Easy Steps to Writing Rhyme-Free Poetry

Image credit: Surrealmuse via Flickr

Have you ever felt like writing a poem but been discouraged by the thought of proper form and rhyme and all those things that make up a good, solid work of poetry? Or have you been discouraged by the (silly) claims that if it doesn‘t have rhyme it‘s not a poem? 

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Let me help you get past that. I am not about to show you which words to use and not to use. I am not about to tell you what to write about. Those are your own challenges. I am, however, going to help you get them on paper/screen in a nice, readable way. 

Now, since that‘s cleared, here are my beginner-safe steps to writing your heart out without the constrictions of rhyme! 

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1.  WRITE SPONTANEOUSLY 

When writing poetry, you are pouring out feelings and opinions in the flexible and multi-toned form of words. This can be a true headache, since there are so many ways to express a single emotion. What works best is to write down as much as you possibly can spontaneously. It will probably be flawed and awkwardly worded, but it will be the closest you can get to your heart-song. (Anyone like singing penguins?) 

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