Want to develop your character? Write a Dating Profile

canstockphoto15012604Run a Google search for “character profiles” and you’ll pull-up lot’s of character worksheets and questionnaires. Some of them are really basic, asking your character’s favorite color or if he ever had a pet. Others delve into character background – sometimes tracing steps all the way back to the character’s immigrant great, great grandparents.

But what if we took a real world approach to character profiles?

Stay with me, as this may sound crazy — but dating websites are designed to ask questions that allow other people to really get to know you. They’re geared toward real people, and you want your characters to be as real as possible. So, what if you turn the profile around and answer questions in the head of your protagonist (or antagonist or love interest or whoever). You’ll really get to know that character, and probably discover some new, surprising things in the process.

Here are some sample questions from an eHarmony profile:

  • Other than appearance, what is the first thing that people notice about you?
  • What are your three BEST life skills?
  • Four things your friends say you are…
  • What are five things you “can’t live without?”
  • What are you most passionate about?
  • What are three things for which you are most thankful?
  • What is the ONE thing that people DON’T notice about you right away that you WISH they WOULD?

These questions (and many more found in a good dating questionnaire) go beyond the basic height, weight and hair color descriptions found on generic character profiles, and really ask for a deeper-level understanding. Spend time thinking about the answers and it will directly influence your writing of character reactions and dialog. It will also subtly weave descriptions and imagery that lead your reader to say, “That character was soooooo real!”

Looking for more info? Check out these articles:

Looking for good character quirks? Check out this book

Book Personality TraitsI just found this book and I want to know where it’s been hiding. It’s a brainstorm of ideas for creating unique, interesting characters. And, as you know, I always say, “Readers may open the book for the plot, but they stay for the characters.”

‘Writer’s Guide to Character Traits’ is written by a practicing psychiatrist and writer, Linda N. Edelstein Ph D.  I have the second edition (which is available on Amazon for under $15 by clicking here). Honestly, I can’t put it down and I’m now trying to come up with stories to put some new character ideas into.

Not only will you find a lot of ideas on ‘quirks’, but the book goes on to explain how that quirk can affect different areas of a person’s life, including work, relationships and romance. It even delves into possible causes for a particular quirk.

Honestly, I think every writer should have a copy on their bookshelves!

 

Looking for more info? Check out:

Quirky Character Traits

Does Your Sleuth have a quirk? He better have a history to back it up

Life Lessons that make great character growth

canstockphoto13359765There’s a formula that a strong plot plus a strong character arc equals a great novel. Readers love character development because it adds weight to the story. Sure, the adventure is fun or the mystery is thrilling, but add a layer of personal growth for your sleuth and you leave the reader feeling that the book meant something.

There are many examples of character growth out there. These are a few ideas I had, especially for an amateur sleuth thrust into the middle of a murder mystery.

1. You can’t give up when the going gets tough. The story opens with a character who has spent her life running from her problems. She’s never dealt with adversity because she’s always taken the easy way out, especially when things get tough. But, as the story unfolds, she learns that there are some things worth fighting for, and must stick around to face her problems.

2. Being selfish and self-centered is not a healthy or socially acceptable way to live. You just know a character who begins a story as a self-absorbed prima donna is going to get spanked with a whole heap ‘a Karma. She may initially react inappropriately to the events unfolding around her, but by the end, she will find her place in the universe, and generally be a happier person for it.

3. Wearing a mask to impress others will ultimately hurt you. A character who spends the beginning of a story concentrating on everyone else’s perception of her, or who everyone else wants her to be, is headed in one direction: an embarrassing reveal of her true self. This character will ultimately learn not to fear the judgments of others. If she stops living to impress others – others will be impressed and inspired by how she deals with her imperfections.

4. There is no real relationship if you can’t first love yourself.  A character with low self-esteem, low self-confidence, and a genuine dislike of herself is probably beginning the story in a lonely place. Or she may be brokenhearted, with a history of lost loves and disappointments. Then she gets swept up in the events of the story and learns her true value. Real love probably isn’t far behind.

5. Micromanaging every little thing in life leads to failure. The character who begins a story needing to control everything in her life is about to have her entire world upended. The more she tightens her grip, the more out of control her life becomes. When the dust settles, she’ll have learned that she must relax and let life happen without the incessant worrying and micromanagement. She may even come to the realization that life was actually in perfect order all along, she just couldn’t see it or understand it.

Want to read more? Check out:

Eight Life Lessons: Ideas for Themes and Character Arcs

Does your sleuth have a quirk? He better have a history to back it up

canstockphoto11602983I just finished a manuscript in which a mystery is solved by an amateur sleuth who hates technology. It’s an interesting premise. Surprisingly though, the sleuth’s aversion to laptops, cell phones, iPods and treadmills had no impact on the story. It had nothing to do with the mystery or in any way helped him figure out the whodunit or capture the murderer. He just complained about technology.

After reading it, I asked the author why she gave the main character that quirk. She told me that she was trying to make the sleuth interesting, to give him a memorable personality trait. As it turns out, her writer’s group read her story and told her that the main character was too bland, and that she needed to spice him up. So she came up with that personality quirk and inserted some new dialog.

That got me to thinking: how do you make an offbeat quirk a natural part of a character’s personality?

Offbeat characteristics can be fun to write, but if not done correctly, they can be distracting to the reader. In the story I just read, it was clearly not an organic part of the narrative. It was tacked on and it felt like it. And to fix that story, two things need to happen. Number one, the sleuth’s extremely negative reaction to geeky coolness should — in some way — help him solve the murder. Number two is rooting the quirk within the character’s history.

For the most part, supporting characters can have odd, outrageous quirks without delving into that character’s pathos. The same can’t be said for main characters. Their back stories need to be more developed and should provide an explanation for the abnormal behavior. Cause and effect comes into play. You’ve got ask, “What experiences would produce that trait?”

If your sleuth is going to have a quirky personality trait, he better have a history to back it up.

Want to read more? Check out:
Quirky Character Traits

Quirky Character Traits

canstockphoto13465010I love quirky characters. Their offbeat personality traits can be endearing, making a character memorable and unique. Done right, character quirks can leave a lasting impression and be far more rewarding than vanilla, Boy Scout manikins with perfect hair and white teeth. Quirks can add depth that dialog and prose alone can’t reach. In fact, those peculiar little idiosyncrasies should make readers FEEL a deeper understanding of that character.

However, it’s critical that a quirky trait compliments the character’s established personality. It should reveal the character’s inner-workings, hinting at lingering shadows of childhood trauma or alluding to generations of odd behavior hardwired in his DNA. When an author simply tacks on a personality quirk in an attempt to add color to an otherwise stale, lifeless character, it tends to be distracting and cheapen the writing.

I’m always writing down ideas for quirky character traits in hopes that one day they’ll jump off the page and attach perfectly to a future character. Here are a few of my ideas that might inspire you and a few you may recognize in some of my current characters.

  • Constantly smacks gum and has a habit of putting the entire pack of gum in her mouth — all five pieces at once.
  • Chews on a cigar — never lights it, just chews on it.
  • Uses really big words incorrectly
  • Claims to be psychic but all the predictions are either very obvious or very wrong
  • Talks to his house plants and worries that they might be resentful
  • Has an inappropriate sense of humor,
  • Is brutally honest,
  • Uncomfortably hugs everyone, even those just recently met
  • Uses napkins to turn the faucet on and off as well as open doors or cabinets,
  • Constantly photographs all the mundane activities of life and brags about her scrapbook with the most boring photos ever
  • Has a fear of riding in cars — won’t drive, won’t ride in the passenger seat — and walks everywhere
  • Turns all photographs hanging on the wall, dolls or teddy bears on beds, or anything with eyes around, because “they’re always watching”
  • In love with a fictional character from a TV show; talks about the character as if he is real
  • Believes that unrelated events relate to him in some important way.

Looking for more infomation? Check out these articles:

100 Character Quirks You Can Steal From Me
Beyond the Cliche: How to Create Characters That Fascinate
35 Weird Traits Your Characters May Have

 

 

Phobias!