IT’S ALL ABOUT CHARACTER—Beyond the Basics© Lesson Three
By Carol Henry
First a reminder: After reading through everyone’s Lesson Two, I was amazed at what several of you came up with, however, there are a couple of things to take note of:
• Describe, describe, describe—get those descriptions down; now is not the time to generalize your character’s visual ‘looks’—be exact, over the top, so you can refer to this later when you’re writing or re-writing that scene and you need to know what they actually ‘look’ like.
• You need to be more specific than referring to a character look-alike—we don’t see the look-alike person in the book—need to add more descriptive features. Remember, you might know who your character looks like, but your reader might not know that person in real life to identify with--your readers needs to ‘see’ what he/she looks like.
LESSON 3: Mannerisms, Speech Patterns, and Personalities
Do you stereotype your characters, or do they have their own distinctive mannerisms, speech patterns, and personalities? These character traits can be indicative of their country of origin, religious upbringing, political views, ethnicity, and time period in which the story takes place (we’ll touch on this later in the class). To make sure your characters aren’t just cardboard characters, here are a few things to consider when giving your character life—how they move around in your story:
• Do your characters use the same words/phrases over and over, do they use slang, or are they eloquent and ‘refined’?
• Do they have a distinctive speech pattern?
• Do they use certain words repeatedly?
• Do they have an accent?
• Do they stutter or use clichés?
• Is their speech indicative of being well educated; are their words controlled?
• Do they run off at the mouth? (supporting characters like Marybelle, in my novel Ribbons of Steel, was just such a supporting character, a cousin to the heroine, who added a spark of humor to the story, as well as moved the story line forward). Do you know a real-life character like this?
• How do your characters ‘move’ around in your story? How do they sit, stand, eat, laugh, argue, show patience, or even walk through a scene?
• Do they walk fast, slow, sway, hip movements, swagger?
• What do they do when talking? Stand on one foot, lean against something, hold their back and head forward, sideways, uptight, look at the ground, look at the person they’re talking to, or over their shoulder avoiding eye contact?
• Same with sitting, do they cross their legs, sit up straight, lounge, are they relaxed, uptight (might depend on the scene)?
• Do your characters get excited easily, overly excited, laugh a lot, or are they controlled, subdued, frown, are slow to respond and have slow or quick movements? Do they meet other’s eyes, or shy away?
• Does this person have a nervous habit, hand movements, twitch, comb hand through hair, etc.?
• What is it about your character(s) that make them stand out from the others?
PERSONALITY: is your character:
• A liar
• A cheat
• A control freak
• Has trust issues
The list here is endless, depending on what is needed for your individual characters and the story—see what you can come up with.
Tips of the Day:
• Each of your characters should not have the same mannerisms, words, speech, and their personalities, although they can be similar, they should differ enough to make them more individualistic, realistic, and interesting (good or bad) to the others in your story.
• Make sure speech patterns are used during the time period your story takes place.
• Each character should have their ‘own’ speech pattern and ‘words’ that they use repeatedly throughout the story.
• Become a ‘people watcher’ to hone in on real-life mannerisms, speech and personalities.
HOMEWORK—LESSON 3: Using the above criteria, find and describe your character’s specific mannerisms, speech, and personality traits. Feel free to share with the class.
Note: Lesson 4 will start to focus on your character’s background—where do your characters come from?
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