The game of Where Is Waldo can be very frustrating at times until finding the one guy among hundreds that stands out because he is quite distinctive. The most important element of a story is your character, whether animate or inanimate because it carries the plot from beginning to end. Simply put, like Cadbury chocolates, the richer the character, the more delicious the story. There have been numerous posts across the Net addressing this issue, so the appended list is not original by any means, and certainly can be expanded upon. The writer’s goal, like the artist in the Waldo game is to make characters stand out. They should evoke love, hate, sympathy, some kind of emotion in the reader to separate them from the crowd.
While writing, I have this list, along with other technique reminders posted near where I am working and periodically check it as a gauge how I am doing. A first draft is like an artist’s sketch. Such reminders are the color pallets that give realistic depth and make characters stand out. While it’s good to have these around during the draft phase, the best time to review these reminders is when starting the first and subsequent edits.
- Allow them to make mistakes.
- Stand up and be counted.
- Struggle with choices. If you can show your character being mentally torn apart, especially if his choice adversely affects himself or someone he cares about, you’ve created a compelling inner conflict that will make readers sympathize.
- Acting consistent within the world you’ve created.
- Weave physical details into the story where they legitimately belong.
- Can smell, hear, feel, taste, and see the environment around him.
- Universal, human qualities. Does the character laugh or cry? Experience frustration, disappointment, joy, anger, shame, guilt, ambivalence? Will readers be able to relate to these reactions?
- Quirks, idiosyncrasies; funny, little habits.
- Convictions, ethics and beliefs.
- Behave logically, use common sense, have worthy goals.
- Is the character a stereotype or an individual.
- Arced – shows growth in one direction or the other.
- Direct and indirect characterizations vs. info dump.
- Take any scene, imagine yourself as the POV character and start telling the story as they would tell it.
Ask yourself these questions as you write
(a) What does the character notice?
(b) How does the character see other people?
(c) What thoughts are running through his, her, or its head as events unfold?
(d) What past events influence the character in the present? What future events does my character anticipate?
(e) What does the character want? What motivates the character to act?
(f) What is the character’s deepest fear?
- Use more than one point of view. A single point of view is limiting.
- Depart from a single point of view in order to divulge information that the reader couldn’t learn from the primary point of view character.
- Drop clues in the environment of your viewpoint character – clues that the reader would understand, but that the character wouldn’t necessarily draw conclusions from.
- It might be a good idea:
- to show how the protagonist appears to others.
- the main viewpoint character is unreliable.
- the contrast between your protagonist’s viewpoint and another person’s viewpoint is central to the story conflict.
- show precisely how dangerous your antagonist is.
[By the way, did you find Waldo?]