I am reading the best book! GETTING INTO CHARACTER, Seven Secrets A Novelist Can Learn From Actors, by Brandilyn Collins. Guess what? The secrets actors use to make their characters come alive onstage work for writers, too! Want to know Secret #1? Here is what I've learned so far...
Personalized characters are built from the inside out. As writers, we often don't go deep enough in building our characters.
It's okay to start thinking about our characters in general categories like age, gender, and career.
But don't forget to go deeper! If your character is a beautiful and wealthy woman, ask her some questions. Is she newly rich or was she born into money? If she has new-found wealth, she probably has a different attitude about money than someone born into it.
Go even deeper. Question your newly rich character about her money. Is it more important than her friends? Her family? Would she feel differently about herself if she didn't have money? (Very differently, she says. My self-identity would be gone.) Continue to question her. (I guess I define myself a lot by my wealth, she says.)
Even if your family/friends give you strange looks, continue questioning your character. You can do this silently or write your questions. I admit, you are talking to an imaginary character, which is out of the norm for most of us!
Continue questioning until you discover how an inner value affects your character's outward personality. In the case of the wealthy woman, ask her what she's spent her money on. If it's a large diamond ring, ask her about her hands. Is she proud of them? Are they stubby and wrinkled or smooth, with manicured nails? Maybe she tells you she hates her hands, and if it wasn't for her huge diamond ring, she'd hide them. Then you can dig deeper. Ask her what desire supersedes the other-- showing off the ring or hiding her hands. Showing off the ring, she replies.
Final step: personalize her mannerisms. This lady needs to talk with her hands, rest them on the table at dinner, and tap her fingers against her cheek when she is pondering something. She wants to show off that diamond! This is not just a random mannerism you picked from a list. It has meaning to your character and says a great deal about what she values. Her mannerisms reflect her core truths.
I can't wait to read the rest of this awesome book and let you in on the remaining six secrets!
Next up: SECRET #2: Action Objectives.