Sunday, August 18, 2013

Characters are Like Legos

Characters are like Legos––whether you like it or not. You have to build them, stack them one on top of another, figure them out. I've written a novel, as well as plenty of short stories. I'm a voracious reader, and I enjoy collecting tips about plot and pacing. 

So what is one thing I have a good bit of knowledge about? 
Character building. 

Over the past year, I have picked up two major tips about building meaningful, realistic characters. I have used examples from the novels Legend by Marie Lu and The Help by Kathryn Stockett (yes, I know that they are completely different books, but they both have beautifully sculpted characters). 

1. We're people, we have stories
Before I started writing my novel, I created an outline (as all writers do). I fitted my characters into the outline, and figured out how they would be woven in and out of the plot. I gave each character a back story, and then molded their personality around it. In Kathryn Stockett's The Help, each character is rich and beautiful. They have flaws, but not flaws that endear them to us. They're a mix of good and bad, and that doesn't make us love them. It doesn't make us hate them, either. They're more like normal people who we love at some moments and can't stand at others. Each character has a story, and we are aware that they go on with their own lives outside of the plot. It's the same way that people at school (or work) have different lives when they go home. And we are aware of that, even if we do not focus on it (because that would be *slightly* stalkerish if we did). 

Even though Hilly in The Help is cruel towards her maids and enjoys making other people miserable, she has a kind streak that stands out. When I first read the novel, I realized that she wasn't as evil as I'd made her out to be. 
2. Take it slow
One thing I love about Marie Lu's Legend is that she slowly reveals information about each of the characters, and the characters are slowly revealed information about one another. They don't know each other, and they enjoy figuring each other out. They offend each other, they make up, they figure things out. They share human emotions. And why is it so appealing? It's because we rarely experience "info dumps" about normal people in the real world. We figure things out slowly and steadily. And characters who figure out information slowly and steadily are more like normal human beings. They are more relatable. 

So, what do you think? Did I get everything wrong? Is there something I left out? Are my tips spot on? Leave a comment!

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