I am a relentlessly positive person. Some would say obnoxiously so. Therefore, I surprised myself when this post came to me. I was busily making a list of what I don’t want to do in my next job – sell, wear suits, be stuck in an office, re-enter the corporate world, etc. – when I realized I do this when I’m developing characters as well.
Sometimes when describing someone I find myself saying something like, “Well, she’s not your typical housewife” or “He’s not exactly a sports nut.” Shaping the individuals that people a story can be difficult if you only look at what you think they are. Instead, try seeing what they aren’t, where they don’t fit.
Let’s say I have a middle-aged woman I want to create. I might imagine her in a chair, reading. What’s in her hand? Better yet, what’s not in her hand? Certainly not a romance, she’s too cynical for that. Non-fiction? No, way – she reads for escape. Ah, I see it now. She’s into murder mysteries.
I have some difficulty with getting intimately acquainted with my male characters because I want to be authentic and “think like a man.” This trick has helped me tremendously in overcoming that impulse. It doesn’t matter whether the character is a man or woman, as long as you understand the boundaries that person has. What won’t this person do? If he’s a husband, is he unfaithful? Same thing goes for a wife.
So, next time you sit down for a cup of coffee with your protagonist, consider what kind of coffee they don’t like; hazelnut flavored, lukewarm? Or maybe it’s the kind of cup they won’t drink out of – Styrofoam, plastic, without a saucer. Get to who this individual is by addressing who they are not.
For those who doubted it, see I can be negative! But only for a good cause.