Are Your Characters Zesty?

“Take it upon yourself to find something fresh and new in each and every [character].” Dwight Swain in Creating Characters: How to Build Story People.”

How well do you know your characters? Are they little versions of you? Oh, I hope they’re not me, but I’m sure a little piece of me is woven into every character whether it’s my own fears or my alter ego. Just so you know, I suck at character building. That is my weakness. I’ve tried reading books on characters, filling out character sheets, and I still feel clueless. I really want to figure this thing out. So, how do we create unique characters that are full of zest?

Some suggest people watching. No can do. I tried. I feel like a stalker. How do you people watch without staring at them and freaking them out? No thanks. Other writers interview their characters and we might find some interesting information about them, but perhaps these characters are holding back. What if they’re the strong, silent type? Or insecure? Would their answers be direct or would they still hold back? I haven’t done an interview, but when I read Science-Fiction Author Cindy Koepp’s interview of her characters from Remnant in the Stars, I loved it. If you’re interested in seeing how she did, follow this link to her website, and you’ll find Meet the Characters. Start with Calonti Sora, then read each character’s interview, and end with An Interview Gone Awry. It’s fun!

Shhh…I’m people watching.

So we talked about people watching and interviewing your characters. What else is there? Voice journaling. In The Art of War for Writers, James Scott Bells explains, “A voice journal is simply a character speaking in stream-of-consciousness mode.” You sit down and start writing as your character.

Hi! My name is Harold Fritzgerald and I like chocolate. Oh and I love sailing until I sunk my ship. Blast that fateful day and those November gales! But then, that must mean I’m dead!

And extra points to those of you who know the song I was referencing. It’s funny how the brain works. Ha! Okay, back to business.  I’ve never done a voice journal for a character, but I do it for me. Does that even makes sense? I’ll sit down and write whatever comes to my mind. Much like what Natalie Goldberg suggests in her book, Writing down the Bones. Maybe I should attempt voice journaling with characters, yet, it seems a bit scary. It’s forcing us to go deeper and beyond, pulling back the veils, tearing down the shields, and revealing the pumping heart of emotion. I just had a weird flashback to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Another movie I’ve watched when I was probably way too young to be watching it. 🙂

So what say you? What do you do to get to know your characters better? Have you done a voice journal before? As a reader, what are some of your favorite “zesty” characters?

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2 thoughts on “Are Your Characters Zesty?

  1. Catherine Johnson says:

    I’m not very good at characters either. Poems and picture books are a lot easier when it comes to characterisation but one day I hope to have another go at middle grade so I’d better learn this. Great post!

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