Character Challenge, Part One

An Exercise Worth Doing, Part I

By Annette Rey

Are you having trouble building variations into each of your characters? Do they resemble more wax figures than thinking/feeling human beings? Major characters (MC) should be recognizable by your readers as they read the individual differences you have written into them. If you are having trouble in this area, and even if you think you are not, engaging in the following exercise will improve your work in this area.

MC should be identifiable by the way they exhibit small details of their actions toward everything. Each reaction should be different than the other character. Each character should have something different that motivates them. Points to consider as a base to function from are: manners, mannerisms, social level, social skills, type of speech pattern (i.e. sophisticated, slangy, impediment, crude, sloppy use of the language, etc.), style of dress (natty, sloppy, always a button-down shirt and belt, always a t-shirt hanging out, jeans, slacks, tennis shoes, oxfords, etc.), approach to large and small issues (direct, indirect, passive, aggressive, non-committal, etc.), personality (friendly, outgoing, introvert, shy, easy-going, angry, manipulative, etc.), drinker, non-drinker, social-drinker, sports-lover, bookworm, body build (couch-potato, athletic, lean non-athletic, heavy football-type, etc.), where they live (with parents, independent, roomie, etc.), career (downtown-suit position, laborer, non-skilled, etc.), education level, animal-lover or not, etc. etc. etc.

I have given you all this fodder and you’ll need more, because this exercise is a challenge, remember?

Write a character profile for FIVE people. Here are the parameters. Take a group of men OR a group of women, in their twenties, they went to high school together and were part of the same group – they were cohorts, friends, companions – they never left the town they grew up in, they still see each other on a regular basis.

First, write separate paragraphs for each, detailing characteristics. That’s all. Do not worry about how you would present these to your reader, what words you would use to show and not tell your reader about them. But write them so they are distinctly different from one another, so that your reader will know which one is on the page at the time.

I chose men and wrote all five at the first sitting. It is easier that way as you can compare them as you go. I will give you two as a beginning example.

1) Bill – laborer, roofer. May work at same company as Ralph – I have not decided this yet. Loud, laughs a lot, is outgoing. Friendly toward animals. Clean, dresses casually. Tall, masculine, good-looking, physically fit. Good relationship with his mother, not so much with his father who thinks Bill is too flippant about life and goals. Bill is a happy, in-the-present guy, enjoys life, appreciates a good meal. Not a drinker, but will have one beer at a ball game. Likes sports. Shares apartment with Ralph.

2) Jack – has a job at a bookstore. More introverted than Bill, hesitant, careful with his speech, measures his words. Likes birds. Clean, tidy dresser, wears heavy-framed glasses. Physically smallest of the five, thin, seems to be always on a diet, picky eater. Subservient to his mother, nervous. and runs to her home whenever she calls, which is often. Though most unlike the others, Jack was accepted into the group in high school because he was so non-threatening, non-competitive with the others, always wanting to please. Teetotaler. Knows about sports because of his association with the others, but prefers reading over outdoor activities. Will bring a book to a picnic. Has his own apartment and is a penny-pincher, but is not cheap, just is a good saver of his funds.

Those are two of my creations. I add them here a guide for you to fully understand what this challenge is about. The next post will include the other three characters.

Let’s get together on this exercise at No Block Writing on Facebook. Tell me how this is helping you get your people out of the box and into clothes and performing on your stage. Share problems and achievements.

This is how we can relate with one another as writers, and contribute to our successes.

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