Hello writers! It is contest time and I am very excited!
(Contest rules are at the end of this post.)
Last month, I went to a writer’s conference and was very inspired by one of our speakers, Tricia Lawrence. She talked about creating characters and how to turn a stereotype into a unique person you actually want to read about. If you read a lot, and you probably do if you are a writer, I am guessing you like characters that are new and surprising rather than the ones who turn out to be exactly as you could have predicted.
Characterization is a main component of this contest. I am looking for characters that I would like to meet, that make me feel like life would be different if that character existed in my world. If you have never put a story on paper, but are thinking you might give it a try, let me compare the creation of unique characters, to you.
Everyone is a writer, most people just don’t know it. I don’t say this because I love my profession and I think that everyone should do it, I say it because everyone is. Every day, every hour, every minute, you are writing the story of your life. You have goals, you have dreams, you make decisions, and you take chances, all of which come from your own experiences and your own values. You are 100% an original, unique character, not to mention the main character in the story of your life as you live it.
During the years you are in now, you are trying to figure yourselves out just as much as you’re trying to figure out everyone else and the last thing you need is a bunch of books filled with stereotypical characters that read like a menu for personality identification. NO ONE fits those molds and I have a hard time believing that anyone would even want to. Books have come so far in giving us unique characters, and writers need to be able to step up to the challenge of creating a character that we haven’t seen before.
One way you can toy with characterization is to choose three of your favorite characters from books you’ve read recently. Get a piece of paper and put each name at the top of a column and under each one, list every personality trait, quirk, belief, goal you can think of. When you are done look at the list and circle the descriptions you only wrote once – the descriptions that are unique.
Now take these descriptors and see how some of them might fit together. Remember that real people have many different layers, so don’t be afraid to put some together that don’t seem to match. You might also have some traits that come out differently depending on who your character is with, where they are, or the emotional intensity of an event. I think a great example of the subtle, but powerful, change in demeanor is in the final scene of Harry Potter. (Don’t worry, I never spoil endings!) After seven completely nerve wracking books, what happened, happened and it is the first time you get to see the characters pondering something different.
So try this characterization exercise a few times, or anything else you think might help, until you find a character that interests you. The character doesn’t have to feel like your best friend, but they should intrigue you. They should feel like they have a story to tell and that you must listen to it.
Here are some examples of characters that are authentic yet multidimensional with the many different people they encounter in their stories:
Harry Potter – with the Dursleys, at Hogwarts, with the Weasleys, his friends, the people who see nothing outside of him being the chosen one.
Artemis Fowl – with Butler, the opponents in his schemes, his mother.
Joy (The Joy of Spooking) – with her parents, her brother, other kids, at home, at school.
Caitlin (Mockingbird) – This is unique in an opposite way, because Asperger’s has made her personality completely consistent in all situations and is therefore unique by its unwavering sameness.
When you have created a character that interests you, spend a few days visiting with them in your head or in a journal. Ask him questions, tell him about your day and ask how his was, figure out what his biggest secret is and what are the worst/best things he’s ever done. You must get to know your character. If this sounds completely new, try it first with a character from a book you’ve read and see how it goes. When you’re ready, try it with your own.
And chances are, as you are figuring out what’s in your character’s head, what makes him tick, you’ll find a story lurking.
Now on to the Rules of the Contest:
1. I am looking for between 1,500 and 4,000 words, but I don’t usually word count when a story takes my breath away.
2. It must have a title, centered at the top, with proper spelling/grammar/punctuation throughout the story, and must be in a font that is very easy to read. I like Times New Roman the best, so don’t stray far from that.
3. Must be fiction.
4. Must have a unique character, and must have a clear beginning, middle, and end.
5. Must be believable. I like watching the most ridiculous sci-fi movies out there, but it irks me when they change the “rules” to save the day at the end. If you set up “rules” for your story – stick to them. The ending should flow with the way you run your story.
That’s it! I am posting this on April 10 and would like your entries emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org no later than Monday, May 12th. My goal is to write at least two things that work well in your story and two things you might want to think about. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask!
Good luck and happy writing!