Colorizing Characters

Whether animate or inanimate, characters carry the plot to its conclusion. How an author presents these characters is the reason for spending so much time discussing them. It is important to know not only what they are and their role but who they are and why they behave as they do.

When creating a character I begin with a physical description – you know, things like age, height, weight, eye and hair color, hair type and style, clothing, and accessories. My search frequently begins rummaging through a sizable collection of mug shots trying to avoid stereotypicals. For instance, why should the bully or bad guy be pugnacious, the hero the most handsome, the heroine the most beautiful? The horse the most perfect specimen, the dog . . .? You get the point. I prefer to pick what we see walking past a park bench. What comes next makes them ugly or glamorous.

What makes a character tick is not their looks, but their strong, points, weak points, habits, quirks, how they behave in situations and why. A great place to start are lists of such things conveniently found on places like Pinterest.

In a story being drafted, the hero suffered a traumatic experience as a six-year-old. Told to not play in an abandoned hotel, a section of wall falls trapping him. He struggles, but can not move and breathing becomes increasingly difficult. He is rescued but suffers from anxiety attacks. Anxiety attacks manifest in lots of lovely ways, in this case, claustrophobia. That sent me to the Internet to research the topic, eventually developing a fact sheet explaining what it is, causes, how it manifests, and physical reactions. The reader will become educated in what claustrophobia is and does to an individual. (Okay, a sneaky way to educate while entertaining). As a scene develops that matches instances where it can manifest, the reader knows to expect it, but not how Hero will deal with it and maybe overcome the problem while going through his quest.

Similarly, bullying. What can cause a person to exhibit such behavior? What different ways do they carry out their behavior? What can happen to defeat/change them?

Recently, a person posted that they believed themselves to be indigo. Huh? was my initial reaction automatically sending me to the Internet. Indigo people can have fascinating beliefs and behaviors. Perfect for many stories especially in fantasy and vampire plots. In fact, they could crop up in just about any storyline if only in suggestive ways.

Each time I come across a quirk, habit, strength, or weakness I like to research and make notes. These eventually become “Fact Sheets,” and filed for future use. A computer folder currently contains 170 documents ranging in size from one-half page to three or four pages.

Having a storyline in mind, thumbing through this file not only finds ways to color a character as real but can stir up the plot to pose problems necessitating detours. A straight, uninhibited shot at the conclusion will never do.

There are up to 152 colors in a Crayon box a child can use to color a figure. We have a lot more – a lot more to play with to add a rich depth and interest to our stories.

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