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Monday, January 9, 2012

Guest Post: Fleshing Out Your Characters by C.K. Volnek

Fleshing Out Your Characters

a guest post by C.K. Volnek 

C.K. Volnek is the author of tween novels, Ghost Dog of Roanoke Island and A Horse Called Trouble.
Hi, Josh! Thanks for allowing me to visit your blog today. It’s such a pleasure to join you.

Today I thought we would discuss building the characters for your work in progress. Grab a pen and paper…here we go:

A story revolves around characters. Good characters. Bad characters. Funny, serious, sad, happy…emotionally charged characters. Your story may not utilize everything you know about your character. After all, will your reader care if a love-sick teen is adopted, or that the school bully loves horses? The reader may not know, but the author should. That love-sick teen may be searching for love because she’s always felt deprived of it. Or the bully reacts the way he does because his father sold his beloved horse for a gambling debt. Every decision a character makes, is the result of something else in his or her life.

I admit, I seldom know my characters completely before I begin to write. I find my characters flow and swell as I write, shaping themselves and revealing more and more about themselves as the story progresses. I don’t go into the story blind though. I have a set of questions I ask my characters. They may be shy and not tell me everything, but usually by mid-manuscript I know them like a best friend.

Here are some of the more important questions I like to ask my characters, to bring them out of their shell and build that all-important author-character relationship.

Name: What’s in a name? It’s your first impression. Your character needs to have a first, middle, last and nickname that creates the image you wish for your character. Would you name a burly, swearing, hard-core soldier Sandy? That is unless you want to create that surprise effect. ;-)

Age: When I write middle grade or young adult, age is extremely important. A 12 year old can’t wait to be a teenager, counting off at ‘12 and a half’ or ‘almost 13.’ And a teenager many times will lie about their age because they want to be treated as a grown-up and not as a baby. It isn’t until they get much older, they want to quit aging so fast. ;-)

Birthday: Again, in some fiction, this may not be as important. But for middle grade and young adult, a birthday is a very celebrated occasion. And depending upon their birth date, they may feel ahead of or behind their friends. My son had a September birthday and thus was the youngest student in his graduating class. He was intellectually ready for school, but we had some challenging moments in grade school because his maturity level was behind some in his class.

Height, Weight, Body type: Is your character short or tall? Are they skinny or heavy? Or are they average? Physical looks and forms will affect how they physically react to situation. If they are heavy, they might not be able to outrun a dog chasing them. Another important element is, does your character like the way they look? Or do they wish to be different? Self-esteem plays into how a character will react to a situation. 

Family: Does your character have a loving mother and father? Sisters? Brothers? The family can shape the personality of your character.

Speech: Does your character speak well? Does he or she have an impediment or an accent? Speech can tell a lot about a person. A character raised with a silver spoon and the best schools speaks much differently than a character that was raised in the back woods. A shy character will also speak differently than an out-going person.

How does your character see him or herself? Extraverted? Introverted? This will explain a lot of how your character will react to whatever crosses his or her path. What are his or her weaknesses? What are their strengths?

How do others see your character? Maybe your character feels she is dull and boring, but others view that as a loyal friend and a good listener. We always tend to be our own worst enemies when it comes to counting up our good qualities.

Hobbies. Likes. Favorite colors: A happy person will usually like bright colors like orange, red or yellow. A depressed person goes to black. A happy person will like to be active, releasing those energetic endorphins, while a sad person might prefer to walk alone in the dark.

What is the best thing that can happen to your character? What is the worst? Set up your story and let your character tell you how they will react and solve the issues that come up.

These questions reveal much about my characters. But I admit, my characters usually change some from the first time I ask these questions to the time I end my story’s rewrites. They change, they grow, they learn, just as I do, each and every day. I’ve learned to be patient, love them, embrace them and grow with them. After all, they are some of my best friends. And they have a story to tell! If I don’t tell, it, it won’t get told.

Good luck getting to know your characters. Thanks for allowing me to visit today, Josh.

-C.K. Volnek

C.K. Volnek can be contacted at  ckvolnek@yahoo.com

Her web page: http://www.ckvolnek.com
Blog: http://www.ckvolnek.com/the-minds-eye-blog.html

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  1. Great character questions, Charlie! I liked this article a lot!

  2. The foundational questions for developing great characters are all there for sure! Very well done.

  3. I enjoyed this post. My characters grow as I write as well. I have found that I have to go back and change some of my character sketches after I'm done writing a book. I'm glad I'm not the only one! :)