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Monday, July 26, 2010

Ruminations of an Old Goat

When creating new characters, writers are good at coming up with the important things that make up the character. Honesty, bravery, occupation, general skills, sexual orientation; these are among the characteristics we all choose when creating characters. But there are other things to consider, as well. Smaller things that take a stock character and transform him into a person.

For example, Roger Zelazny always wrote down three things about his major characters that he never revealed in a story. This helped Zelazny get to know his character better and could also end up affecting decisions the character would make during the story. Just because you never use it in a story doesn't mean it isn't useful.

One thing I like to do is figure out pet peeves for my characters. These are simple little irritants that can have a major effect on how we react to other people and to the various situations life throws at us. Here are a few of my pet peeves as examples.

Misused grammar tends to irritate me to the point of offering an unasked for correction. Some prime offenders are when a person says they "played good," asks if they can borrow "fifty cent," or uses "irregardless" instead of "regardless." I've gotten better about issuing immediate corrections, but they still irk me no end.

I used to get bugged when people took the last of the coffee at work and didn't start another pot. Whether the person was just too lazy or figured their time was too valuable, I can't say, but I'm positive there's a special place in Hell for those people. Recently, though, they installed one of those machines that brews a single cup almost instantly, so this pet peeve is dormant (it'll never be dead and buried until I retire).

I've got a lot more pet peeves than these two, but they'll do for examples. If you had character with any of these pet peeves, it wouldn't be particularly hard to work in a scene in which your character had to deal with one of his pet peeves. Introducing the pet peeve rounds out your character, makes them appear more real to the reader. You don't have to spend a lot of time coming up with these, in fact you can simply decide on one while you're writing about the character. The old saying is, "The devil is in the details." Pet peeves can be one of those little details that help bring your characters to life.

Short column for this week, people. I'll try for something longer next week.
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