Characterization Lives In The Little “Somethings”

Last night, I started outlining a new story. There are two POV characters. One is Beth, an English woman whose story occurs in 1981. The other is Sonia, an American woman (I haven’t figured out which city yet) living in the present day.

character-quoteI know basic details for each character.

Beth – English, a primary school teacher, married, romantic (idolizes Lady Di), a little anxious, can be disorganized. Has long, dirty-blonde hair that’s unruly at times. She’s short and a little overweight.

Sonia – African-American, lives in a big city, political science professor, engaged, tall, fit, type-A. Prefers intellectual conversations to dreamy flights of fancy.

Those are good details to start, but as get to know them, I realize I need more. I need those little “somethings” that make someone special. Unique. Real.

The risk when creating characters is to fall into stereotypes. Like the Hemingway quote suggests, we want to create stories about people, not caricatures. So how do we do that?

Think about yourself for a second. Or your spouse. Or your kid. What makes them, them?

Yesterday, my eight-year-old son left the table in the middle of doing his homework. He wandered into the living room and picked up a stuffed bird.

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That stuffed bird.

As if talking to himself (which he might have been doing), he said he wanted some company while he worked. This bird fit the, um, bill. He brought it back to the table so it could watch him do math.

Seeing his animals as real things that he wants to spend time with is a quality unique to my younger son. My older son sort of liked stuffed toys when he was smaller, but he could take or leave them. The younger one probably has hundreds, and he loves each of them like family.

My husband works in insurance, likes to hunt, fish, and camp, and he enjoys taking naps on Sundays. What many people don’t know about him (before I started blogging, anyway) is he’s completely neurotic about the yard. Thankfully, we live in a state where grass is dormant for about five months, but during the other seven, watch out (click the link for an amusing anecdote about that).

As for me, I enjoy quirky shoes.

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These are the fun lacy shoes I’m wearing today.

Those shoes are tame compared to the brightly colored sneakers I used to wear, before I let someone convince me that someone “my age” shouldn’t wear “those shoes.” (Insert Napoleon Dynamite style sigh here). I think it’s past time to go back to a colorful pair.

I guess the fun manicures will do until then.

candycorn-nails

These kinds of little details – like loving a stuffed goose, being anal about grass, or having nails that look like candy – are what turn a character into a person. In past books, I’ve had characters that were on the track team, wore Marvel T-shirts, or had a tattoo written in Yiddish.

So now I have to decide which details to assign my new characters. Maybe Beth has a purple streak in her hair. Or maybe Sonia eats steak every night. Hmmm. Perhaps some people watching is in order.

What memorable little “somethings” have you given your characters or have you seen in books you’ve read? 

25 thoughts on “Characterization Lives In The Little “Somethings”

  1. Pingback: Story Stuff: Z Is For Zippers (And Other Minor Details) | Allison Maruska

  2. One of my characters has a thing she does with her hair when she is uncomfortable, a certain phrase she uses as a stock reply to her daughter. We all have nuances that show up and they are what we need to find , the characteristics that bring them alive..
    Good post … thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great post thank you!! I agree, and it’s actually quite hard. For me, the longer I ‘write’ with a character, (which includes their backstories that never see the light of day, all of which I usually write/type out) the more I get to know them, and the more those little tidbits come out in the final product. Also, I have found that when you write a series, for me anyway, characters seem to come to life, probably because I’ve been working with them for so long lol

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The little details are SO important! Sometimes that’s all I have about characters (a problem in of itself…)
    Also, you are never too old for fun and loud shoes! Get some brightness there! I enjoy finding ways to match my nails to my shoes…. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Reblogged this on Dan Alatorre – AUTHOR and commented:
    It’s a fun concept. Giving – or knowing, even if just in the writer’s head – that level of detail allows a three- dimensional person to evolve. Someone who, with just a few lines, can endear themselves to a reader.

    “As if talking to himself (which he might have been doing), he said he wanted some company while he worked. This bird fit the, um, bill. He brought it back to the table so it could watch him do math.”

    In 40 words, we can fall in love with a character. That’s how simple it can be to write an amazing character. And how hard. Lacy or colorful shoes indicate an inner free spirit in a character. Maybe an outward free spirit, too.

    It’s fun to wonder what unique traits my characters have had (or what I have myself as a 3-D person)!

    Nice job with this.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. It’s a fun concept. Giving – or knowing, even if just in the writer’s head – that level of detail allows a three- dimensional person to evolve. Someone who, with just a few lines, can endear themselves to a reader.

    “As if talking to himself (which he might have been doing), he said he wanted some company while he worked. This bird fit the, um, bill. He brought it back to the table so it could watch him do math.”

    In 40 words, we can fall in love with a character. That’s how simple it can be to write an amazing character. And how hard. Lacy or colorful shoes indicate an inner free spirit in a character. Maybe an outward free spirit, too.

    It’s fun to wonder what unique traits my characters have had (or what I have myself as a 3-D person)!

    Nice job with this.

    Liked by 1 person

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