I’ve taken some characterization classes and used the checklists from these to better develop my characters. I love the checklists. The classes have been great. They helped me better define and deepen my characters. So I wasn’t sure what I would get out of a webinar on characterization that was something different. Turns out it was a lot in terms of thinking slightly differently.
A few highlights from the talk by author Jade Lee to think about:
- Using the Elements – air, water, fire, metal and earth. Think about which element your character either identifies with or if this is a new character, what element would define the character best in terms of story. Then tie it to their movements and how you describe them. For example, water might be slow, floating or raging. It also works to connect those words to what your character is feeling. For instance, angry might be his/her stomach churning or if happy, then floating or glistening. Finally, you can use this in how the character talks – is the dialogue slow or a babbling brook or maybe an ocean wave that rolls and crashes? The rhythm of the dialogue can also affect this.
- Buried Motives. This one was interesting since I hadn’t really thought about it in this way. I think my checklists reach most of this through the questions but this certainly defined the concepts better for me. There are three types of goals: stated, secret and buried.
- A Stated motive is what the character says it wants. For example, to solve the crime.
- A Secret motive is what the character thinks he/she wants. For example, justice for someone.
- A Buried motive is the goal your character would never see until it is pointed out to him/her by someone else. This is usually a feeling such as to feel powerful or feel capable.
I think these work really well for mysteries. It can certainly add some depth to our characters that we might not have considered. I suspect that we understand this about our characters but I like being able to put it into words. Knowing this upfront will help with thinking through how some of how my characters act and react. And I can see these three as questions on my checklist to prompt me to think specifically about them.
- Traits. Ms. Lee suggested that three traits should relate to each character. This can be anything – nurturing, productive, creative, etc. One should be a primary and the other two are secondary. For help in deciding on these, she suggested Danielle LaPorte’s book, The Desire Map. Other resources were books by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi – The Emotion Thesaurus, The Negative Trait Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Flaws, and The Positive Trait Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Attributes. I have the last two books (I have no direct connection to any of these authors or books) but except for an occasional glance through them, hadn’t found a way to use them more effectively – this provides some ideas on how to really use these books more. It also will prompt me to use some traits that I might not have considered if I wasn’t looking for this.
Ms. Lee also talked about these three traits relating back to your character’s early life. She suggested thinking a bit about early traumas and the effect of these at different ages in your character’s backstory. I find that I have this type of history and familial relationships in my checklist questions but I can see where I need to add a few things to that checklist to incorporate some of these concepts. In particular, listing the traits out and seeing how those relate to the character’s backstory seems like it would be very helpful and might inform either a subplot or even the main plot.
For the elements concept, I can see this being really useful for the minor characters. This would give them an easy way to define them and hopefully make them memorable in their own way.
What about you? Have you used the above techniques? Do you use checklists and if so, do they get to any of these types of thinking?