Martha Mihalick, editor at Greenwillow, was another speaker at this year’s Prairie Writer’s Day conference. Her topic was Character: how to create really good ones, and why it’s so important.
Basically, plot springs from the character. Sure, you could have a chain of events, but without a believable character to carry it out, you’ve got nothing. So how do you create a well-rounded character? Ms. Mihalick tells us all...
Characters are flawed. That’s what makes them real, and that’s how readers identify with them. They are more than character types, such as The Jock, The Nerd, The Quiet Kid, The Queen Bee, etc. They move the story forward through their virtues and flaws, which means they MUST be more than a type. It also means they drive the plot – the plot never drives them.
So how do we create these wonderful characters? Ms. Mihalick had many helpful things to say on this.
On a characters objects and possessions:
What does your character carry around in his/her pockets? And why?
How does he/she dress (i.e. what is his/her sense of style)?
How is his/her bedroom decorated?
What is his/her most prized possession?
What are his/her opinions of the various things in life?
On the people a character interacts with:
Who are your character’s friends? Enemies?
Who lives in his/her town? Neighborhood?
How does he/she treat these people?
What are his/her relationships with parents? Siblings? Other family?
On a character’s actions and reactions:
What makes your character laugh? Cry?
What does he/she do when frightened?
Introvert or extrovert?
On a character’s opinions:
Optimist or pessimist?
Liberal or conservative?
What is his/her opinion on certain kinds of music, movies, and books?
Put all of this together, and you’re on your way to creating a very real character.
Now that we’ve created him, how do we reveal him to the reader? Through a combination of action, dialogue, and monologue. But only those things that are relevant to the story. If your character thinks wearing socks with sandals is appalling, but is has nothing to do with the story, there’s no reason to bring it up. The same goes for the people and surroundings. Only bring in the things that have direct relevance to the story, build it, and move it forward. Everything else can stay in your notes.
Now we know how to build a complex main character. How do we build a minor character? According to Ms. Mihalick, use the same things. The minor characters must be as complex as the main character, even though we won’t see as much of it. But if you, the author, know the depth of your characters, then that will come across to the reader. The same thing goes for villains.
She parted with a list of books that contain well-developed characters:
TRACKING DADDY DOWN by Marybeth Kelsey
ME AND THE PUMPKIN QUEEN by Marlane Kennedy
LILY’S PURPLE PLASTIC PURSE by Kevin Henkes
THE LAST APPRENTICE by Joseph Delaney
Thus, adding to my towering TBR pile. :) Hope you enjoyed this as much as I did!!