All About Character…
My son wore Spiderman pajamas to school. They had wings. They were way too small on him and hit about mid-calf. They were similar to footie pajamas since they were one piece, but without the actual feet.
He’s in middle school. Not elementary.
See, when he informed me of his plan to wear them for pride week, I kind of panicked. I was terrified of him being made fun of. I asked if anyone else at school was going to wear those type of pajamas. I tried to explain they were too small for him so he’d change his mind.
My son just shrugged the whole thing off. Said he thought it was pretty cool, and he was wearing them. He didn’t care what anyone else did.
I spoke to his brother and asked him if he thought it was a good idea. My second son shot me a look, and said, “If he’s comfortable, why aren’t you?”
Good question. Because from my experience in middle school, if I did something as brave and cool and unique as that, I’d end up being bullied and humiliated and be forced to move out of state. But guess what? That’s my experience. I was a shy, awkward, terrified kid who had her nose stuck in a book and jerked when a stranger said hello to me. I was a mess.
My son went to school in his Spiderman pajamas. When he got on the bus NO OTHER child was wearing pajamas. I felt sick to my stomach all day, worried about him.
When he came home, he was happy. Said he played basketball with a huge group of boys and when he swished it in, they told him he had Spidey powers. He got high fives. Other kids wore unicorn and Hello Kitty footies to school and they all shouted in the hallway when they passed each other.
I almost cried. From relief, and pride, that somehow my son had the strength of character to just be who he is. He’s told me he’s gotten hurtful comments before on some of his choices, but he doesn’t care. He tells me those people are not his friends, so what does it matter?
OMG. YES. He’s teaching me more lessons than a therapist.
Now, let’s switch to writing, which is the whole point of this lovely blog post.
I believe character is one of the most important things you can do to make your story explode off the page. I write about this extensively in my book, Write Naked, but since I’ve got 4K to write today and the words are coming slow, I figured I’d distract myself by a short blog post about it.
It’s very important to know who your character is. The beauty of this is that every person is different, and so is your hero and heroine. One book, you may be writing about a powerful, assertive, savvy business woman with a quick temper and a drive to success. Another book you may be faced with a gentle, shy bookworm who’s always battling to learn better social skills and kiss a boy.
Their pasts are different. Their viewpoints, their likes, their dislikes, and their goals.
This is the key for your story. The plot can be anything if you sketch out fascinating, dynamic, interesting, FLAWED characters who resonate with readers.
If you’re having trouble getting them sketched out on the page, use my son as an example. Use your mother, your friends, your husband, and your children. Pull on those experiences where you’ve met people who make you wonder what makes them tick. Tug the loose thread, make it unravel, and get messy.
I would sketch out my son as a hero who doesn’t fit into the usual job category – he thinks outside the box. He’s fearless because he’s comfortable with who he is. He pushes boundaries. He’s loyal to a fault, because if he keeps his word, he assumes someone else will, which leads him eventually to disappointment in others. He’s been in love with a girl since second grade and dreamed of taking her to the prom when he hit high school. Senior year, he realizes his dream and picks her up in a stretch limo, and gives her a single red rose instead of the usual corsage, and they dance slow, rather awkwardly in the high school gym with balloons and streamers hanging from the ceiling and he realizes he loves her.
He follows her to college and they have a passionate love affair but after graduation, she wants to move to Hollywood to be an actress and he wants to stay in New York where there’s actual seasons and snow for Christmas and not swarming with fake tans and fake people. They begin fighting, tearing each other apart, and finally break up to go separate ways. He falls into a deep depression and vows to never give his entire heart and soul to another woman again. He settles in New York and years later, gets engaged to a very nice, very sweet woman he thinks he loves. Later on, he comes face to face with his first love. They are both engaged to others. But the moment he sees her again, he knows he must do everything to get her back, because he will have only half a life without her, so he makes a grand gesture and asks her to choose him, and she does, but they leave a big mess behind, people who are heartbroken and betrayed and have to pick up their own shattered lives. They get married, try to have children, are challenged by fertility, and their relationship begins to erode. They separate years later, come back together, and adopt a child. They travel on great adventures together, raise their daughter, and then one day, are faced with the ultimate choice that affect the rest of their lives. What is it, you ask? Well, it’s—
Hell, I don’t know, this was just a rough example.
Is this my son’s story? Nope. He’s only 13. I have no idea what’s going to happen, but if you start with a foundation, or a big choice, or the point where everything they thought they wanted in life is completely lost, you can begin to figure them out, and then you can follow the story.
My characters are never fully known to me until the last portion of the book. Like clockwork, I receive the AHA! Moment, and then I go back to layer and fix all the scenes where I struggled because I didn’t know who he or she was yet. For me, writing the book is a journey to creating a full character.
But God knows, you have to start with something. Use the world around you for the push off.
Now, let me get back to my book.
Remember, my peeps. Don’t just write.