Reviewing Character Month

Character month is over. If any of you are starting NaNoWriMo, character month got over just in time for you to take any knowledge and apply it to your frenzied November in the trenches. Hopefully we’ve all learned a little something. We had other writers talk about their process of creating characters, dissected characters from movies, and even had a few literary professionals over to share what we should avoid. All-in-all, I’d say it was a good month.

What we learned.

Movies taught us the value of  quickly establishing who our main character is. Our audience needs to connect with them as quickly as possible in order to cheer them on. Movies also taught us how inner conflict can add a new dimension to our characters. Great characters have many layers.

Other writers showed us many of their favorite characters are flawed, like most people. They may not have all the answers, but their journey to overcome the odds changes them. Through their struggles we connect with, and relate, to them.

Literary professionals helped us see what they’re looking for from a strong character. Strong characters don’t have to be physically strong, or even perfect, but are flawed like many of us. They should have many different layers, again like many of us. We also learned that our characters should have clear motivation for doing what they do. If we can get readers to care, or connect, with our characters, they will keep turning the page.

And lastly, we learned “flat” characters are deal breakers. Period. If our characters don’t appear multi-layered and aren’t relatable, the quality of our plot–or anything else for that matter–won’t matter. Our characters need to pop off the page and be as lifelike as possible.

Moving forward.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how I’ll approach writing characters in the future. I decided to try to find a photo of what I believe my main character looks like to help me visualize who they are. It helps me think of them as a real person. I’m also going to be more aware of letting my characters be too passive. When I started Eden I wanted to take a normal woman and show how events change her. I realize now that was a mistake. I gave too much importance to the story, almost making it a character. The characters should drive the story, not the other way around. I can still achieve my character goals by showing how certain events change my characters. How can we show this? Through actions, reactions, dialogue, or any other way possible. Every scene involving characters is another opportunity to show who they are. Characters are like onions and the best have many layers with clear motivation. Our characters should be the same.

A picture is worth a thousand words.

Japanese Actress, Masami Nagasawa

I’d like to encourage all of you to try to find a picture which best represents your main character. It could be a family photo, actor, actress, even a painting, or piece of art. It doesn’t matter. You may be surprised by what you find. I know the photo I found wasn’t exactly how I envisioned Mitsuko in my mind. But when I saw the photo, I stopped and said, “That’s the one.” I don’t know how I knew. It just seemed right. Whenever I write about her I have that picture in my head and it helps. I’m not suggesting you make your main character look like George Clooney, but maybe seeing a picture of someone, or something, which represents your character will help. Our characters should be unique and three-dimensional, like us. They should be their own person. If a picture can help you flesh out all those layers, then find one. There are hundreds of photos of Japanese actress, Masami Nagasawa–different hairstyles, different expressions, different poses–but this one in particular stopped me. I think it’s the expression on her face. There’s something about her eyes that captivate me. I see strength and sorrow. That’s what I want for Mitsuko.

Only the beginning.

Character month has helped me share some of the things I’ve learned about characters with all of you. My goal all along was to help and inspire other writers, all the while learning how to create the best possible characters. I hope we can all take something from this series of posts and apply it to our writing moving forward. If any one of us is better today than we were before character month, we’ve accomplished something. We’ve learned some great lessons already, but we should be savvy enough to know there’s more knowledge out there waiting to be discovered. Keep learning, keep sharing, and keep writing. Challenge yourself to become a better writer. Don’t ever give up.

“I don’t believe you have to be better than everyone else. I believe you have to be better than you ever thought you could be.”Ken Venturi

What have you learned from character month? Know any good tips for creating characters we missed? Please, share your thoughts in the comments below. You know you want to.

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8 comments

  1. What did you do to search for the picture? I mean any search terms that helped, or just a general mass search? I’ve been thinking about doing this for my book as well.

    1. I just did a general search using different terms. It took me a few hours until I found the image of Ms. Nagasawa. When I edit, I’m going to give Mitsuko shorter hair (there’s a reason behind it too!). You’ll likely know what you’re looking for the second you see it. That’s how it worked for me anyway. Good luck with the search.

  2. I tried finding photographs like this for some of the characters in our WIP – it was actually really helpful because it made me realize that I imagined some of them way differently from how Kati imagined them. I guess that’s the hard part when you co-write a book. 🙂

    Character month was great, btw! I really enjoyed seeing how people came up with their characters. One of the big tips that stuck with me was how much everyone’s characters’ physical traits affected their personality as well – it was something I hadn’t given too much thought to before, but I’ll be keeping in mind from now on.

      1. It’s going pretty well. We’re “done” with editing the first book (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said that…) and are actually working on the sequel now. I just handed it off to Kati at a fun cliffhanger, so now I get to wait for her section. 🙂

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