What I've Written About

Friday, April 29, 2011

Characters: An Easy Fix

Take your characters from this:

To This

I am a hoarder of characters.

Sorry…I kind of whispered that. Let me say that a bit louder….

I am a hoarder of characters.

Did you catch that?

Just like the highly embarrassing show called Hoarders that comes on television, I collect character ideas.

No matter where I am (the dentist, the grocery store, the hospital, the playground, my living room) I am watching people. I like to see how they react to given situations. I find amusement in the small details of each person. The shirt they are wearing, the teenager with a zit on their nose, and the older gentlemen who can barely walk into Walmart, but still smiles at me as he passes. To amuse myself, I’ll go early to a movie and watch people as they come in and build back-story for them. The couple where the girl is way prettier than the boy? How did that happen? Did he pay her to be there? Did he break her down over years until finally she submitted? Did he do something so romantic and incredible that it didn’t matter what he looked like anymore? Did he hire someone like “Hitch” to nab her?

You see where I’m going with this?

I come up with a back-story for pretty much every person I come in contact with.

Because of this, I kind of think of myself as an expert on characters…creating them, understanding them, making them come alive in my mind.

And today…I’m going to share my FIRST secret for creating a character that seems real with you. Grab a paper and pencil (or at least a finger that can find the ‘print’ button.)

Today, you are getting the EASIEST way of making a character seem more like a real person. Stay tuned to future blog posts for the rest. (I know your reading breath is already baited for it.)

Here goes…

Are you ready…?



There is something about attaching a name to an object/person that makes that object/person become real. Let’s look at three examples and you decide which one seems like it really happened…

Ex. 1: By the time her math teacher had finished the lesson, Sarah wanted to gouge her eyes out with a pencil.


Ex. 1: By the time Mr. Sorenson had finished explaining quadratic equations, Sarah wanted to gouge her eyes out with a no. 2 pencil.

Ex. 2: Cereal always made him feel better. He didn’t know why, but something about the crunchiness soothed his worries.


Ex. 2: Cocoa Puffs always made Sam feel better. He didn’t know why, but something about the chocolatey crunchiness never failed to erase his worries.

Ex. 3: The last time Marcus was at the zoo he threw food into the zebra pen. Let’s just say he was never invited back.


Ex. 3: On Marcus’s third grade field trip to the San Diego Zoo he threw chunks of his bacon cheeseburger into the zebra pen. Let’s just say he was never invited back.

In my mind, when something is named it becomes not any old thing, but a specific thing. It makes it seem more like it really happened instead of something the author made up. So here’s what I’m going to suggest to you—

A) Look at the nouns in your story.

B) Decide, could I give an actual name to any of these things?

C) If so, maybe change a couple to something a little more specific.

This isn’t to say you have to name EVERYTHING…but a few extra specific names are only going to make a scene seem more real. Even if the name is made up. I recently read a book where the girl was addicted to Dr. Cola. There is no Dr. Cola. But the fact that they named her favorite drink made her seem like someone a bit real-er (okay that isn’t a word, but go with me here).

It’s a pretty quick and easy fix, too.

What do you think? Do you think things seem more real when actual names and places are attached to them? Did you try it? Did it work? What other suggestions would you give to someone wanting to make their characters seem more real?

Want to learn some more and enjoy some great teen reading? Go to Write On Teens or Noveltee(n). Both are amazing sites for teens!


Lois D. Brown said...

Your examples rock. So true.

Jo Schaffer said...

Excellent as always, girl. Your characters are vivid and alive.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Margie. I feel like you're telling me one of your many secret ingredients to character developing. I know your "soup" is amazing, it's nice to learn how you make it.

Jo Schaffer said...

Tagged you on my blog!