July is all about picnics, fireworks, and…CHARACTER!
You probably already had your BBQ for Independence Day, but it’s not too late to introduce your characters to your friends. No, I don’t mean you should pull chairs around the campfire and leave some empty for your pretend friends. I mean get your critique group together – or join/start one!
So are you a Plot Person, or a Character-Character? Did you start writing your story because of the cool, twisty plot that popped into your head? Or did a character somehow find you and convince you to tell their story? Obviously, every story needs both, because character and plot are dependent on each other, but depending on your personality, one might come easier to you than the other.
I’m more of a Character-Character when it comes to starting my stories. I know who they are and how they need to grow, but I can’t outline to save my life. I need to develop a series of events (er, plot) that will get them from point A to point B emotionally, because I love, love, love, love them and I can’t wait to introduce all my friends to my characters….but….
Surprise! I don’t actually know them as well as I think I do.
Time after time, I write a scene only to have a critique partner say, “Um, that reaction doesn’t make sense. Did something happen in her past to make her react that way? Or don’t you think she might do this instead?” Hmmmm….okay. I either need to better understand my character’s backstory and emotional makeup, or adjust their action/reaction. Even if I don’t agree with a suggestion, these kinds of questions always help me to hone my character because I need to justify their response, fully understand their story and what makes them tick. We need other people to ask us the questions we haven’t thought of yet so we can really know our characters.
Here are a few suggestions for your next critique session:
-As you read someone else’s work, make note of sentences or details that alert you to something deeper about a character. Sometimes, an author will write something subconsciously, and you as the reader can help to point out what their character is trying to tell them. Pointing out the use of a certain word, reaction, or some other telling detail can actually surprise the author, leading them in a new (and right!) direction.
-Make a list of what you know, paying particular attention to the things you, as the reader, have inferred. Telling the author what you know about their character can be extremely helpful. Starting a critique session by saying, “First off, tell me what you know,” can help you to see if you’re conveying what you want to convey….or not.
-Always note when an interaction or reaction feels off. Bring this up gently, and with the intent of helping the author to dig deeper into their character’s psyche.
-Don’t forget about secondary characters. We learn a lot about a person through their interactions with friends, enemies, and family members. Think about the ways secondary characters bring out the good or bad in your MC or the antagonist. If these people aren’t bringing out an interesting or real side of your MC, maybe that secondary character needs some work. Maybe they need a personality change. Maybe they just need to die. Hey, you never know.
-Try IF-THEN charts. Try out different paths of action for your characters without having to write an outline or a cumbersome number of throwaway scenes. You can make a list or chart to evaluate your options. IF on one side, THEN on the other.