At some point we all find ourselves staring blanking at our computer screen, trying to get our character to do something, anything, and ultimately the frustration takes over and we end up yelling “why can’t I see you properly?” at them (yes, them as in our made up, imaginary characters).
The problems we have with them are endless! They’re weak, don’t seem to know what they want, they amble from one place to the other, throughout the story their eyes seem to miraculously morph from blue to brown…
What I’m trying to say is, don’t worry. We all struggle with character consistency.
Let’s face it, we’ve all sat at our laptop, whimpering and pulling our hair out because we just can’t seem to create a character that stays alive in our head. We forget the simplest details such as their hair colour, their favourite song, how old they are and whether or not they even like the coffee they’re drinking.
But that doesn’t mean that we aren’t good writers or that we should stop writing. Learning how to keep your characters consistent just takes time, but we all get there in the end! All you have to do is take the time to put some techniques in place, so here are 5 ideas to get you thinking.
Know Your Character
This is quite possibly the most important point to keep in mind.
As writers, we’ve technically given birth to these characters with the sheer will of our imaginations and the ink of our pens, so we should really know them as well as we would know our own children.
So, first things first, take the time to create a profile for each of your characters. To see a detailed list of what to include in your character profile, give Dan Hughes piece on ‘3 Ways to Create a Compelling Villain’ a read.
Once you’ve given it a good read, don’t waste time, get started straight away! It may be slightly tedious but don’t let that hurdle stop you. Remind yourself that it is a necessary evil! Just make sure that you file these profiles in a way that works best for you. You’re the writer so you make your own rules! You can store them on little squares of scrap paper, in expensive A3 notebooks or anything in between.
The second thing to do is immerse yourself in your character.
Spend time doing creative writing exercises in which you write both about your character and as your character. This can include anything from writing obituaries about your character to writing journal entries as your character. Again, you’re the writer and the boss, so only you can decide how is best to get to know your character.
Note the Important Details
Maybe you’re running through the first draft of your novel and you notice that your character, let’s call her Celeana, goes from holding an abandoned watch to suddenly not holding it within the space of a few paragraphs. This is an easy fix.
You just need a reminder.
The reminder can be as simple as; ‘BRANNA HAS CHEEKBONES’ or ‘DAN IS STILL WEARING THE PENDANT’.
These notes can be written on post-it-notes, at the top of your manuscript, in a notebook, anywhere that works best for you, just make sure that it is written somewhere obvious and visible.
Remind Yourself ‘They ARE Real’
It’s important to remember that to keep a character consistent, they also need to be believable.
Let’s just say that at the end of a chapter your character is shot in the arm. Although not a fatal wound, it’s still an injury which means that unless your character is some sort of superhuman, invincible fallen angel, they’re definitely going to need some recovery time.
Ultimately your character and the scenario they are in must ring true. So if your character is shot in the arm at the end of chapter 7, but is back to flawless health at the beginning of chapter 8, your character is neither consistent or believable.
Hugo O. Smith goes into this in some more detail in his piece ‘Writing an Action Scene’ so give it a read.
You’re NOT the One Speaking
Another thing to keep in mind when writing or editing is that your character is the one speaking, not you! Ask yourself right now if your character has any interesting traits, do they have a dialect or any idiosyncrasies?
If you’ve answered no to any of these then it’s likely that your character is going to be quite flat, hence why you’re struggling to imagine them in your head.
If you’ve answered yes, then make sure that you have a note of them (see point 2) and that you’re keeping it consistent throughout the whole story.
Read your character’s speech out loud and ask yourself ‘do they sound like me?’ If the answer is yes then you need to rewrite the speech to sound like your character with the relevant traits. Unless of course you actually wanted your character to sound like you, then by all means leave the speech as it is, but just be wary that it doesn’t overlap too heavily with the overall voice of your novel.
Don’t go long periods without writing
If you leave your story sitting there untouched for months, even weeks at a time, you will start to forget your characters. They become no more than fuzzy images in your imagination. Ultimately, they stop being real.
It’s good practise to write every day. You know this, I know this. Every writer knows this. But sometimes life gets in the way and you just can’t. If this is the case then there is an alternative. Just spend time every day thinking about your character.
What I mean by this is that you should fill those small windows of time that you’re not really doing much (maybe you’re travelling to work on the bus) and you should be imagining a situation (perhaps even the situation you’re in at that precise moment) and ask yourself ‘what would my character do right now?’
Yes, it’s actually that simple, so don’t waste any more time!
Whether you’re just starting, in the middle of writing your first draft or on the third edit, stop, take some time to put these tools in place and before you know it you will have a real, layered and consistent character jumping off the page.
Copyright: Laura Davis © 2017, all rights reserved.