YA author M. Liz Boyle is back with “Characters You Meet Along the Way” as we dive into the fascinating process of creating characters for our stories. You can read her other guest blogs here. Thanks for coming back, Liz!
“It’s not where you go. It’s who you meet along the way.” Dorothy is credited with this saying in The Wizard of Oz. It’s a sweet quote to share with your family and friends.
I think sentiment also applies to authors. Think of your favorite books. Do you reread your favorite scenes because of what happens or where it happens, or because of who it happens to? Just like relationships are essential to life, characters are what make stories come to life. (I am not discounting the importance of setting or plot, but for this article, I’m focusing on characters.)
Here are some tips to make your fictional characters as interesting and varied as the people you know in real life:
Describe more than what you see.
When you meet someone, are hair and eye color the only things you notice? The tone of voice he uses and whether he maintains eye contact might make more of an impression. Does her body language put you at ease or make you wonder if she’s running from the cops? Before he answers your pointed question, does he check his watch or give you full attention? Is she only halfway listening to you as she periodically scrolls through her phone, or does she make you feel like she has all afternoon to listen? Qualities like these (and more!) are worth describing so your readers get a full sense of who your characters are.
Give your characters sayings or mannerisms that are unique to each character.
Maybe you have a mentor who often starts conversations with, “Listen, I was thinking….” Meanwhile your sister commonly skips up the porch steps and says, “Guess what!” Assign phrases to different characters to help distinguish their personalities.
Choose your character’s interests.
If you want readers to know certain details, let the character who is most likely to recognize those details describe them.
A character who describes her own clothing in detail will probably describe other people’s wardrobes, too. She’s interested in clothing, so she notices that in other characters. This fashionista character probably will not describe vehicles with the detail of a car collector. She might recognize a car as old enough to be in a car show, but she probably wouldn’t say, “Look at that 1960s Shelby Mustang with the racing stripes.”
My husband is a tree worker, and he can tell me all about the health and species of trees in a yard and their proximity to power lines and propane tanks, but he can’t ballpark what century the house was built in because it doesn’t interest him.
Here’s a snippet of a recent conversation with my dad that illustrates this.
Dad [about the first time he went water skiing, which was many decades ago]: The boat had a 30 horsepower outboard motor. It was a Mercury with a four cylinder.
Me: What color was the boat?
Dad: I don’t remember that.
Me: [wondering how he can remember the motor but not the boat color]
It’s unrealistic if characters are all-knowing, so give them interests like real people.
I hope these three tips help you design your characters. What other ideas do you have? Thank you so much, JPC Allen, for hosting me today!
Adventurous teenager Marlee Stanley has a knack for finding herself in natural disasters with her sisters and the Miles boys. When their adventures take a turn for the worse, will Marlee cave under pressure, or will her faith in God be strong enough to guide her to safety?
Liz is the author of the Off the Itinerary series, the wife of a professional tree climber, and the homeschooling mom of three energetic and laundry-producing children. Liz once spent a summer in Colorado teaching rock climbing, which she believes was a fantastic way to make money and memories. She resides with her family in Wisconsin, where they enjoy hiking and rock climbing. Liz and her husband have also backpacked in Colorado and the Grand Canyon, which have provided inspiration for her writing. She makes adventurous stories to encourage others to find adventures and expand their comfort zones (though admittedly, she still needs lots of practice expanding her own comfort zone). Follow Liz on her website, Facebook, Instagram, GoodReads, and BookBub.