- How to Connect with Difficult Characters
- Add Elements of Yourself
- Character Goals and Plot
- Getting to Know Your Characters Techniques
- First Person Snips
- Mediation / Visualisation
- The Interview
Sometimes characters appear out of nowhere fully formed. As a writer, you instinctively know their personalities and motivations, their role and being is crystal clear. However, most of the time, characters arrive patchy. As we work with them, they expose themselves bit by bit. And on occasion, there are characters that are a perfect fit for the story, but they feel flat or foreign to us. These characters are a struggle to work with. The key is knowing how to connect with characters.
How to Connect with Difficult Characters
Add Elements of Yourself
Often we create characters because they seem cool or because they are what the story needs. This can forge a disconnect with between writer and character; the dreaded flat feeling. The disconnect results from the character being born from the logic mind rather than the creative mind. As a fix, try giving the character traits you hold within yourself. Chances are, a bond between writer and character will manifest and fester a connection. Aspects of self to consider;
- Younger versions. Our perception of life changes over time with life experience, but we cling to nostalgia and memories are personal. Dreams. Past and current dreams hold a personal attachment. What’s on your bucket list?
- Draw on your personal experiences. What made you laugh? What made you cry? Do you have any regrets?
- Identify your likes, dislikes and interests. What are your pet peeves? What makes your blood boil? What gives you excitement? What are your interests?
- The beliefs you hold close to your heart. Religion? Freedom of speech? What’s your moral code?
- Base your character on a real or fictional person you like or dislike. Apply to your character whatever trait is triggering or inspiring. These traits negative or positive represent something personal.
Emotions anchor character and writer together. Stronger the evoked emotions, the easier characters are to write. As they say, the writer is in every character.
Character Goals and Plot
Stories are built around conflict. Conflict is any obstacle that prevents the protagonist from achieving their goals. How does your character think and feel? Is there a disconnect between character and plot? Are character actions and reactions to conflict true to character, or are character actions and reactions being dictated by the plot? The issue could be the plot and not the character. Consider plot and character as dancing partners, they need to work together flawlessly and follow a beat. As writers, sometimes we need to jiggy with the plot and mould around the character, and other times recast the character. A more in-depth look into the relationship between plot and character can be read here.
Getting to Know Your Characters Techniques
First Person Snips
For every major character in my novel, I write what I call “First Person Snips”. Essentially, I write whatever comes to mind in the form of a stream of consciousness, focusing on the character in question. For novels and flash fiction, I prefer to write in third person, but these snips work best in first person. The writing is like scribing a character’s journal entry. I don’t censor myself, because the idea is just to let the voice flow on to the screen. Some writers might find their First Person Snips more authentic if they handwrite. My snips are about 200 words. Length is writer preference. Below is an example from my current project.
RiciScream if you want to go faster baby. The only thing faster than a bike is life. A decade passes in a blink of an eye. I didn’t mean to stay away so long. Always a new journey to race towards. The globe started out as huge, now it seems so small. Explored every continent, a countless number of islands, chased the wind, avoided snowy winters… Although snow buggies were awesome or sledge dog riding under the Northern Lights a highlight. Each mile stone marked on my body, a travel journal of sorts.
Mum’s going to kill me when she sees all these tattoos…
A friend of mine swears by writing dialogue as a way of getting to know characters. For some writers, dialogue flows without effort. If speech is your strength, this technique is a fantastic way of uncovering who your characters are. The best part is, you’re killing multiple birds with one stone by bonding with multiple characters. The way a character speaks reveals a lot about them. Are they shy? Chatty? Vulgar? Prim and proper? You get the idea. Dialogue also reveals character dynamics. The fastest way to record dialogue is using scriptwriting app, but any word processer or pen and paper will do. Solely focusing on dialogue means your brain doesn’t have to worry about description and narration.
Mediation / Visualisation
Find a quiet space and meditate. I use the term “meditation” loosely. Meditation is an individual thing. For example, I can’t meditate in the traditional sense. Thoughts are always present in my head. Instead of pushing thoughts away, I follow. For me, my form of meditation allows me to focus on my story world. My head space allows me to play out scenes in my mind’s eye like a movie. Other times it’s a bit like talking to myself or talking to The Muse. I have to admit though, my mind has to be free from life’s little annoyances. There is no room for worry or a to-do list, focus is 100% on the story world. It can become a bit like an interactive video game. Once in the zone, go with the flow and you never know who you meet or where you’ll go. When I first heard about this technique during a novel writing course, I thought the instructor was loopy. Don’t knock it until you try.
Note: Some might consider this technique visualisation.
Pretend you’re a detective or a reporter and interview your character. Ask them questions relevant to the story; their history, their thoughts and feelings about events and the world around them, how do they feel about other characters in the story? Write the answers down. Let characters ramble if need be. Personality can be uncovered from what characters say and don’t say, their word choice, and their tone. For those more daring try visualising your character as well. What are their mannerisms?
A picture tells a million words. Images can imprint characters in your head and offer a visual representation worth more than any written description. Hunt the internet and magazines for models, actors, or everyday people for inspiration. The principle also works for settings and fantasy creatures. Images offer a realism. My writing mentor vouched for this technique and collected images of Aussie soap actors. Many writers add images to their character sheets and project bibles. Keep in mind, unless you get permission, images are for personal use only.
If all fails, and no connection to the character is sparked, the story might not belong to that particular character. Instead, try focusing on a side character to tell the story. Character exercises are fantastic to repurpose as promotional material for your social media or author platform.