I use to despise creating characters. They were the hardest thing I had to do. As I said before all of them were 1) boring, predictable and stagnant; there was no growth in them nor did they enhance the story and 2) they all were a reflection of me (what I would do, how I would react, what I would say, etc).
Terry McMillan stated before that she would go to places that were hiring and ask them for an application. She would go home and use the applications for each character. That is the most organized way to do characters that I have ever heard. Great idea for writers to adopt especially if they were like me and despise this part of the novel process.
To make my point I’m gone use street lit as an example. By now everybody should know how I feel about the state of street lit. Very few street lit writers have been worthy enuf for me to want to read their ish. For the rest of them unfortunately they are the same. The female main characters are almost always very high yellow with exotic features: long hair, J-Lo azz, Nicki Minaj waistline, mesmerizing eyes and cocky. You know the deal. Personality wise they know they are untouchable divas that everyone in the hood wants, they use their looks to get whatever they want. They are stuck up and blunt. On top of that they are daddy’s girls. This truly is the bases for the female character. What is the excitement in that? For a 31 year old, chocolate sistah I can’t relate to this little girl. Readers like to be able to relate to the characters no matter how grimy they are. And fans of street lit especially want to be able to relate to the story and the characters because they are living this every day. Knowing someone is going thru similar situations even if the character is fiction allows them an option. I mean it is that deep. But with all of these washed out predictable characters it becomes unrelatable. I have never been high yellow nor do I have the passion to be. My sperm donor of a father was nowhere near me when I was growing up so I do not know what it is like to be a daddy’s girl who doted on my every move. He was into the drug game but as a user, not a dealer so therefore I can’t relate. Am I being harsh? Yeah because there are readers who are pickier and more judgmental when it comes to reading.
To the writers of street lit, I challenge you to strip the old way of how your characters are created. Look around your hood (or for you bougie people, neighborhood) to get ideas. If you have an intensely odd fam like mine it should not be hard to get ideas. You don’t have to base a character solely on one person; you can take a part of one person another from someone else and so on. God didn’t make us all the same so why should your characters be the same?
Live with your characters for a minute. Sounds crazy but it will help later on. A writer can easily let their own presence influence the characters, but it can be true the other way around and it could work to the writer’s advantage. It’s like walking in someone else’s shoes, something we as humans wish we could do in real life. The purpose of doing this is so you can be a better writer. You will be successful at creating believable life experiences.
Have a back-story even if it doesn’t relate to what is happening in the story. Why? Because in real life everyone has a back-story; our past deviates how we respond to our future whether we want them to our not. So why don’t your characters have a back-story?
Always throughout your story reevaluate your characters and make sure you have their purpose in view. I don’t know how many times I’ve gotten to the middle of a story and realize that the character has softened or hardened when that was not the initial plan making me start over.
Hopefully these few tips will help you and get you started on building great characters. Just to recap some key points:
1. Take time to make a character. God didn’t make us all the same so why should you make all of your characters?
2. Life does imitate art. Look around you. Every day we run into crazy azz, intriguing, powerful, outlandish people. Pick and chose physical and mental characteristics that will work.
3. Don’t allow you to influence your character’s moves.
4. Give them their own story.
Peace and Luv!