Where I Acknowledge My Idiocy

(Edit: Reblogging this. For some reason, yesterday WordPress decided to wipe the post out. It’s so weird– I still have the email and everything, but on the normal site it’s like I never even wrote it. So here it is again!)

Remember on Monday when I told you that the following day’s post would be part of the Teens Can Write Too! blog chain? Yeah, well I’ve known that date for several weeks and written it down on every calendar I own. Yet I somehow still forgot to post to the prompt that day.

To make things worse, instead I gave you a bunch of videos for half-naked guys advertising deodorant.

FUN STUFF. I apologize to everyone from the blog chain who came over only to be weirded out by my “post on character development”. No, I’m not a maniac. Okay, maybe a little, but it was totally an honest mistake. Promise.

Here goes the REAL TCWT blog chain post.

“How do you develop and relate to your characters?”

It’s an interesting question, because it’s different for everyone. It depends on your genre, whether your book’s plot-based or character-based*, and a slew of other things.

As for me, I usually develop the plot first. Maybe it makes my characters weaker, or maybe it hasn’t– I still need to experiment around. But I feel like certain characters will flourish within certain plots, and others won’t pull their weight in development.

For example, if you’re going to write a postapocalyptic story, and your character’s an apathetic goth who listens to nothing but a band called, I don’t know, Death Deathy Death Screams Blackness, they’re not going to be motivated to actually rebuild society.

You could take that in an interesting direction–would she just wander around the God-forsaken Earth with her headphones in–, but it’s going to take some serious character development to get your plot moving. It just won’t work.

That’s why I usually have a general idea of my plot first, and then create my characters. They’re always evolving, so I keep an open mind and write all their bios in pencil, double-spaced so I can fix things or add notes.

When it comes to names, I’m not a good person to ask. Usually I’ll just creep around a baby name website and make a list of interesting ones. Sometimes they’ll be symbolic (in my current novel, there’s a small country in a forest where most of the characters have woodsy names), and sometimes they’re just cool names.

I’ve been trying to be more unique. My favorite name so far has been Aaliyah, who was my NaNo protagonist last year. Magnolia is also (kind of?) unique, although I usually just call her Nola.

Moving on to more crucial aspects. The two most important things about a character are that they’re 1) relatable, and 2) they develop within the course of a story.

For a main character to be effective, the audience must feel a connection to them. That doesn’t mean that your book targeted at 16-year old girls has to be about a 16-year old girl. There are fundamental human traits that every character must have if they’re to draw on the heartstrings of your readers. Instability, awkwardness, flaws, a sense of humor, trips on the stairs and drinks from the wrong cup at the dinner table sometimes.

(What was that? Half those are just me? Oh. Well, you get the idea.)

We all know to avoid Mary Sues and such, but even so it’s hard to remember to “imperfect” your character every once in a while. Make them do something stupid or get caught daydreaming. Don’t let it detract from your story, but let your readers relate to your characters.

That’s one thing– another is character development.

For the most part, real people aren’t static. They move, they change, they grow and learn and improve themselves, or else grow bitter and tired and crabby. We aren’t the same people that we were ten years ago.

The same should be true for a good character. Think of those that stand out in literature. To me, Guy Montag is one. He develops over the course of the book, from a man who feels discontent but doesn’t know what to do with it, to a rebel who’s willing to find an unjust government to the end.

Katniss Everdeen–another example. Jonas from The Giver. Tally from Uglies. Those are just examples from dystopian novels!

Another thing to keep in mind is that character development doesn’t just happen overnight. No one wakes up, goes to brush their hair in the mirror and then realizes, “Man, I should go on a quest to find the lost pieces of the Sacred Relic of Cheesecake-something-or-other.”

No, a wizard appears to them while they’re still in their pajamas and tells them what they need to do. The same happens with character development–outside events, or even the words of someone else, have to affect the character enough that they’re forced to change.

Anyway, that’s my speech for the night. I apologize again for my stupidity. Happy blogging!

December 5– http://correctingpenswelcome.wordpress.com — Comfy Sweaters, Writing and Fish
December 6– http://taystapeinc.wordpress.com — Tay’s Tape
December 7– http://insideliamsbrain.wordpress.com — This Page Intentionally Left Blank
December 8– https://alohathemuse.wordpress.com — Embracing Insanity
December 9– http://noveljourneys.wordpress.com — Novel Journeys
December 10– http://sporkattack.blogspot.com — Crazy Socks and Ninja Bunnies
December 11– http://kirstenwrites.wordpress.com — Kirsten Writes!
December 12– http://herebefaries.wordpress.com — The Land of Man-Eating Pixies
December 13– http://delorfinde.wordpress.com — A Farewell to Sanity
December 14– http://estherstar1996.wordpress.com — Esther Victoria1996
December 15– http://thewordasylum.wordpress.com — The Word Asylum
December 16– http://teenagereader.wordpress.com — Teenage Reader
December 17– http://biozarre.wordpress.com — Missy Biozarre, Young Adult Author
December 18– http://greatlakessocialist.wordpress.com — Red Herring Online
December 19– http://incessantdroningofaboredwriter.wordpress.com– The Incessant Droning of a Bored Writer
December 20– http://herestous.wordpress.com — Here’s To Us
December 21– http://teenscanwritetoo.wordpress.com –Teens Can Write Too! (We will be announcing the topic for next month’s chain)

*I think all good books are (at least to an extent) character-based. No matter how brilliant the plot, if the characters suck then the story will fail. However, there’s still a difference between the two.

About Aloha

A teen writer and future world ruler. Llamas make me happy.
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7 Responses to Where I Acknowledge My Idiocy

  1. Gabi H says:

    Ah, here’s the post!
    It gave me a lot of things to think about in terms of my characters.
    Also, you’re funny 😀

  2. Kirsten says:

    Oh, you know (or maybe you don’t) that I love shirtless men. And that commercial. Anyway, I totally agree with your post, and Magnolia is definitely a unique name. One thing I might disagree with is “making” your character imperfect. All characters are imperfect- you might just have to look a little deeper to find the imperfection. That was probably your point that I just stated. Anyway, great post!

    • Aloha says:

      Who DOESN’T love shirtless men? Except, well, other men.

      Hm, you’re right. I guess we have different ways of going about it– I “create” the character and their individual characteristics, while it sounds like you take a person and flesh out everything about them. They have somewhat the same end result, but yours probably results in a better character overall ^.^ Is that off-base? I would agree with your statement, though I’m not good at thinking like that.

  3. Gwendolyn Copperstone says:

    Great post!! And funny, too. I love the Sacred Relic of Cheesecake paragraph.
    I also use baby name websites for character names, that and the phone book. And I found a random name generator that I use sometimes.
    And llamas are great! Except devil llamas named Java… I do think that alpacas are a bit cooler than llamas though. That’s Java’s fault.

    • Aloha says:

      Thanks! I appreciate it 🙂

      Random name generators are the best. Especially the elvish ones–I’ve spent hours before just building up a repertoire of elf names, even though I’ll probably never write fantasy. They’re just so fun!

      Definitely. We visited an alpaca farm a few years ago in Oregon, and I fell in love with the alpacas. They’re so much more efficient and cute than llamas. Unfortunately, the lack of awesomeness in their name makes me unable to accept them. When I rule the world I’m going to rename llamas alpacas and alpacas llamas, so everyone will love llamas (alpacas). If that makes sense.

      • Gwendolyn Copperstone says:

        Oh yes, Elvish name generators are awesome. I found a Hobbit name generator once too, and it was fun.

        And that does make sense. It would be a bit confusing at first, but then the adorable cute mini ones would have the awesome name.

  4. Sorry about the delay. See: http://greatlakessocialist.wordpress.com/2011/12/19/deployment/ Blueberry picking and laziness.

    That Goth Apocalypse idea really struck a chord with me (probably in a minor key), and what is a Mary Sue?

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