Writing a Solid Character

If you know nothing about your character, the first thing to do is to fill out a character quiz. My characters were all kind of hazy individuals with only a few distinct personality traits. They had vague backstories and unclear motivations. Not only were my characters lacking, but my plot was as well. I just wasn’t sure where it was going, and how could I when so many of the characters were only partially formed in my mind? If I didn’t know the personality of the antagonist, just his motives, then how was I to know how he would inflict pain on my protagonist? If I didn’t know about how my protagonist was affected by things, how would I know how the antagonist could hurt her?

Not only this, but I dread writing a Mary Sue. Or a Gary Stu. I have taken this test many times for many characters. Some passed, some didn’t. Some fell on the middle line. As you write more and take the test more you realize that some things are just not okay to do, like being Stephanie Myers and writing a character like Bella. I just took the test for a character of mine and got a -3. I think that’s also not good, but a bad score on the test doesn’t mean I need to scrap the character. A very low score means that I have to make sure my character remains interesting enough for readers to want to read about her while a very high score would mean that I needed to think about making her more of an individual and less of a special snowflake. I suggest everyone take this test at least once to make sure you know what to look out for. After that you just need to ask yourself if your character has personality traits you can list and if they have a specific flaw. If so, write on.

Speaking of flaws, it’s important that your character have a flaw. A world of perfect characters means a world where nothing goes wrong. There is no plot, no problems to be solved. Even if all but one character has a flaw, that single perfect character isn’t okay unless his/her perfectness actually causes them non-Mary-Sue-like problems.

Characters are made-up people in a made up world. That’s the gist of it. To make a believable character you have to think if they would be a believable person. Have you ever known anyone that didn’t annoy ANYONE they met, even the most irritable? Have you never met a person who hated someone for basically no reason? Have you ever met someone who you found completely perfect and couldn’t find a single flaw in? If you just said yes, you need to take a step back from writing and examine your personal life. I love my boyfriend with all my heart and I think he’s absolutely perfect for me, but I still recognize that he’s terribly introverted, procrastinates too much, and is kinda lazy and incredibly unmotivated when it comes to certain things. However, I can love him and still recognize that he’s not perfect. Love should not blind you, and that includes love for your character. You created them from nothing and have been with them through everything, but you have to remember that they’re not real. They’re just a tool in your writing. If realizing that your perfect character is kind of an asshole betters your writing, it’s the best step.

That being said, Camp Nanowrimo starts tomorrow. I might do more character quizzes since the one for my main character helped so much with the plot. Here’s my favorite question/answer from the quiz.

Q: As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A: Wren wanted to breed livestock and sell them at market.

It might not seem like much, but I made it up on the spot and now that’s another aspect to my character that exists. Little things like that add up and can go a long way.

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My Bookshelf: The Actual Real Reality of Jennifer James

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Title: The Actual Real Reality of Jennifer James

Author: Gillian Shields

Genre: Young Adult Fiction

Amazon Summary:

“This is the diary of Jennifer James.

It contains:

One Heroine: Jennifer James, burdened by brains, struggling to release her Inner Babe

One High School: London Road Comprehensive, a no-hope English school in a no-hope English town

One Prize: A scholarship to the elite St. Willibald’s College [Jennifer’s idea of Paradise] offered to the winner of a tacky reality TV show, Down The Bog

and . . .

A Thousand Complications: Like Jocasta, the crazy feminist mother; Tallulah, the blond rival from hell; Marcus, the guy with green eyes; and above all, the actual real reality that Jennifer’s chances of winning are less than Mega-Zero.”

My Summary:

So basically, there’s this little nobody girl whose school is put onto a reality TV show. Nobody Girl gets to be one of the students on the reality show and so cameras follow her around at school and she has the chance to win a completely paid scholarship to some rich kid boarding school. Nobody Girl struggles in the competition because she is, essentially, a nobody, but with some help she pulls through and makes it to the end of the competition. Drama, silly names, and even more teenage drama will accompany Nobody Girl as she fights for the prize.

Cheers:

  • Overall, it’s an amusing read if you don’t think too much about it. It makes fun of reality shows and provides an afternoon’s entertainment (or longer, depending how fast you read).
  • There are some interesting characters. There were only a few times when a name was mentioned and I had to think hard about who that person actually was, despite the large cast.
  • It did the diary thing pretty well. You still could feel like it was a real story, but there was a lot of narrating rather than just showing what happened just because of the style.

Jeers (possible spoilers):

  • Jennifer James is a bit of a Mary Sue. Her only flaw is being bad a gym and being shy and nervous. In my opinion, shyness/nervousness/clumsiness is the first thing writers go to when they realize their female characters have no flaw. The whole time I was a bit annoyed with how generic she was.
  • Jennifer’s little brother is a prop. Sorry, but I don’t like it when authors add siblings just to give the main character more depth. It’s mentioned once that her little brother is just starting school, then never mentioned again. He’s basically there because she once took him to the park and that helped her interact with a boy.
  • Jennifer’s parents were having serious martial problems and it’s all solved because Jennifer told her dad to buy her mother flowers. I just wasn’t satisfied by that part of the story. I wanted to know more about her dad, why he was so quiet and more about his job and how the move from Jennifer’s old school affected the family. Her mom went from being INSANE to completely normal from a bouquet of flowers and a concert even though she almost had an affair? It was just all very unrealistic.
  • I didn’t like the love interest one bit. I just didn’t feel his appeal. I feel like the entire reason that Jennifer chased him was because he had green eyes. That was it. I liked the boy she rejected much more and the way that plot line resolved itself left much to be desired.
  • The text talk. Oh god, the text talk. Jennifer is supposed to be this really intelligent girl who wants to get into Oxford but she sends txts dat lok lyke dis. No, worse than that, actually. It was painful.

Would I recommend it?:

Only if you could borrow it or buy it cheap. It isn’t high-quality reading, just something to pass the time that you don’t have to think about it. It wasn’t super bad, but it didn’t stand out at all. Overall, it was a novel with an interesting (though unrealistic) premise and a meh execution.

Amazon Link:

http://www.amazon.com/Actual-Real-Reality-Jennifer-James/dp/B0064XRA28