Personalizing CharactersPersonalizing characters is one of the best ways to make our characters real and three-dimensional. It can also be fun. Personal experience is one of the best ways to develop our characters. A fiction writer doesn't want to write an autobiography or even a biography, but a mountain of resources for a writer's characters is available at home, at work, at a social occasion or any place you can watch people. Our power of observation can be a great tool in getting character ideas.
The people around us can serve as the example for our characters' personalities, what they wear, or even what they say. For instance, in my first book, THE HEART'S HOMECOMING, my heroine says to the hero when he turns to a country music station on the radio in her car, "My car doesn't do country." I took that quote from something my husband said to one of our daughters. I just stored that quote away, and when the right time came, I used it. In that same book, I took my mother-in-law's habit of being very early to appointments and gave that personality trait to the heroine's father. I got a laugh when she saw herself in that character.
In my latest book, FOUR LITTLE BLESSINGS, there are four children. I used memories of my children as they grew up, as well as youngsters of friends and family to create the personalities for the children in the story. My books are populated with a lot of characters because I like to write about family relationships. To create all these characters I pull from experiences I have had as well as the experiences I hear about from others.
People are fascinating, and people watching can trigger all kinds of ideas for characters and characterization. I recently did two things that were great people-watching opportunities. I was a movie extra and spent hours waiting in an airport to shoot a scene. Not only did I observe people coming and going at the airport, but I was able to observe people eager to get themselves on camera and the reactions they had as they had to wait over two hours for the shooting to begin. The second experience came during a summons for jury duty. I was sitting in a room full of people who could give me character ideas. I have to go back at the end of this week, and I intend to take a notebook. I realized there were too many things to remember without writing them down--all the way from the arrogant judge to the people who were tying to get out of serving for one reason or another.
Why were these such great opportunities? People came dressed in everything from shorts to business attire. There were people of every description. And the great thing about being writers is that we don't have to take a person as a whole. We can mix and match descriptions and personalities. We can take physical traits from one person and put it with the personality traits of another to create a unique and wonderful character. We can listen to speech patterns and phrases to give our characters believable dialog. Also we can use mannerisms and the facial expressions that we observe to add depth to our characterization.
Tapping into our own emotions is also another way to make our characters come alive. If our characters are involved in something that makes them happy, you can think about a time you were very happy and draw on the things you felt and how you reacted to that situation. The same goes for something that may have made you cry. The actual events don't have to be the same as the ones our characters are experiencing, but we want to capture the feelings of pain or euphoria and give those to our characters. We want our characters to come across as real people. Using our emotional experiences can make that happen.
If we make good use of our power of observation and use what we learn to create our characters, we should be able to create those three-dimensional characters that the reader will care about--the kind of characters that will keep the reader absorbed in our book.