Monday, April 21, 2014

Self-awareness and character building

Do you get the feeling that you know your characters a bit too well? Know her past with accuracy. Understand her feelings intuitively. Vouch for her actions 100%?

Are you sure your character is not you?
When I started working on my current WIP a few years ago a lot of my MC was me. She was timid, shy, lost, passive-aggressive and had mommy issues. My critique group gave me pointers about character development and ideas on how to build character consistency. I took notes. A very wise writer told me how it was difficult for me to see the character inconsistencies since so much of me was wrapped in my MC. Dutifully, I wrote that sentence down, too.

You see, I had no idea that a big part of me was my MC! It took me several months to realize that. And when I did, it struck me as doubly strange that someone I knew as well as myself came out so inconsistent on the page.

We all write a bit of ourselves in each of our characters. Memories, personal ticks, family occasions are all fair game. But I had done something more. I had drawn a caricature of myself and conveniently called it my main character. What I needed to do was take myself out of my MC with precision and build a character that was more truthful to my story, not necessarily one that came to me more easily.

Of course, before doing this I had to research the phenomena. What good writer wouldn’t! When I read up on it, author interviews touched on this topic. Most authors either embrace the concept that the central character is semi-autobiographical version of themselves or completely disassociate themselves from their MCs. It was a recurring theme, which made me feel less alone dealing with the issue while at the same time forced me to confront the amount of work needed to be done to build a character who was true to my story.

So, 1), I journal-ed more from my character’s point of view. I gave her scenarios to see how she would react. I’d get up in the morning and make notes about the weather from her POV; I’d spend a few minutes at the end of the day summing it up from POV.

On other days, I’d write my own journal to build my own self-awareness. To see what my reactions were like. To understand my own POV. To look at my writing style to see how it was different from my MC’s.

2) Then, I asked myself what was the problem my MC was trying to solve. What was the reason for her journey? While this was easy to answer, I had to look hard and deep inside myself to see if this was something I was struggling with as well. Whether my MC and I were looking to solve the same thing or had different issues just being aware of the similarities/differences was enough to build a more truthful character.  

A lot of my character inconsistencies came about because I needed to be more aware of myself and understand myself better. When this happened, I got better insight into my MC and what her journey was.
Self-awareness is key when writing a story and building a character. We tend to focus so much on the MC, our plot and our story that we tend to forget about the person who is actually creating the world. A bit of self-awareness goes a long way.

What do you think? How have you created your characters? How much of you is in your characters? 


  1. Every once in a while I'll find a character with an uncommon quirk ( like they're a vegan even though it has no relevance to the plot, or they like vinyl records and never visit the record store once) and I wonder if it has something to do with the author's personal tastes more than real character development.