So apparently creating a convincing, likable, relatable character for your book is hard. Who would have guessed it? If you don’t get the figurative whip out and control those characters telling your story, then not only can they totally get out of hand and do whatever the heck they want, but they’re also at risk of coming across as someone your reader doesn’t really care about, or doesn’t want to care about.
There are a lot of articles and books on characterization, and I’ve read more than a few of them over the years. Some were helpful, some were downright confusing, and they all came at the subject matter in slightly different ways. In that respect, I suppose this post isn’t all that different.
Like all authors, I wanted my readers to connect with and love my characters, and tried many ways to make this aspect of my books work. However, something occurred to me one day, something that changed the way I write my characters.
As big a bookworm as I am, I’m also a massive consumer of TV series. I love them; the number of couples I “ship” and characters I’m a fangirl of is probably ridiculous. But for some reasons, I process TV shows the same way I do a book, except the medium I’m receiving the information is more visual. Maybe I’m more of a visual kind of person. I also love it when books are converted to TV series and I can measure up the two, watching how the story on the page becomes the story on the screen.
For all the reading I’d done on individualization of character, of a character having certain traits or reactions that set them apart, I never really got it. Well, I got it; I just didn’t know how to translate that into my own work.
It all came together for me one day when I was watching one of my favorite shows. I can’t remember which one it was, but I get the feeling it might have been Supernatural (total Dean girl over here!). I was pondering once again my own writing, and how when I’m telling a story, what’s happening in my head is running like a movie or TV show, and how I could convey that onto the page.
It’s easy to get the big things, the obvious emotions and actions of any given scene. But this particular day, when I was watching Dean and Sam interact, it suddenly occurred to me that I was missing the small things.
I think the reason these things are missed, is because they’re the little movements, habits, or reactions that we ourselves don’t actually process as having noticed, but on a subconscious level we are reading which is in turn giving us more information about how a character is feeling—more so than the words they might speak. I had read somewhere before that during a conversation, over ninety percent of communication is actually non-verbal. On the TV screen, this is obviously easy to convey as your actors are telling a lot through their facial expressions and other body language. But as authors, how do we put that on a page to convey the same amount of non-verbal communication.
I’m afraid I don’t actually have the answer! This is something I am still striving for as an author. I try to include things like the way a character sitting at a bar might pick at the label on their beer bottle. Or the way another character might push food around their plate. Or even something like rearranging items on a table. These are obviously some of the more over-done, almost cliché non-verbal tags many authors use—the challenge lies in coming up with new, yet significant ones!
Also as authors, we need to find a balance. If we do explain every single nuance of expression or movement our character makes, then there would be huge chunks of what would probably amount to info-dumping between each character speaking. But again, there needs to be movement and reaction between dialogue, because dialogue alone is obviously not enough to carry a story on the page.
So these days, when I’m writing a scene, I try to remember to look between the moments of larger action to see what my characters are doing in the quiet moments, and try to make most of the small things.
Ilari, Brannon System, 2436
At first, Dr. Sacha Dalton is simply curious about the prisoner of war admitted to her med-lab…until she sees who it is. For Commander Kai Yang—the commander of the battleship Valiant Knox—has long been thought dead. Killed in action. But after almost a year and half, he’s returned home. Returned to her.
Kai is recovering from his ordeal and under the watchful care of Sacha, his childhood friend and the widow of his best friend. Only now, their friendship has grown and deepened into something far deeper, and far more complicated. Yet as Kai’s body recovers, his psyche remains broken. How could he ever be the man he was, and the man Sacha deserves? But an intergalactic war has a way of forcing a man to be the hero he was always meant to be…