Characterization: What shape is your noodle?

Maybe you’ve come across those prompts that have been floating around the internet since 1998 or so: they’re massive lists of things that, supposedly, every writer should know about their character. They start out with some solid information: legal name, nicknames, appearance, where they were born, etc.

And then things get specific. Oddly specific.

Questions like “What would your character give their life for?” and “What does your character think makes a successful love life?” could be good to know, especially if they’re going to be in situations where that comes up. And then there are some questions like “What was your character’s earliest memory?” or “What is your character’s favorite shape of noodle?” that probably won’t come up at all, outside of very specific circumstances.

I don’t know about you, but unless it’s a major part of their identity, I really don’t care what a character’s favorite shape of noodle is.

I’m partial to bowtie noodles, but Boxy’s got a thing for dinosaur shapes. (image from Wikimedia Commons)

A lot of people will tell you their ideas of what every writer needs to know about their characters, so here’s mine– and instead of the typical 25/50/100, I’m going to give you an easy number to remember. Three.

  1. What do they want? This is both in the short term (I’m thirsty; I want a glass of water) and the long term (I want to become a world famous dancer.) Everybody wants something, and as a writer, you should have a clear understanding of at least the short-term desires of every person that appears in your story.
  2. What is their defining experience? A defining experience is one that shapes who you are, what kinds of things you want, and what you value. It could be a relationship with a particular person, a single moment, or an environment, but it fundamentally altered who they became. For example, Frodo Baggins was shaped by the stories of his uncle Bilbo’s adventures. They instilled in him a craving for adventure and an appreciation for humility and mercy– and those qualities set him apart from every single person he interacted with.
  3. What changes them during the story? In order to be dynamic, a character must change at some point over the course of the story. In order to do so, you must give them a second defining experience that shapes them in a different way. Staying in Tolkien’s world, I would argue that Gimli was changed when he met (and was smitten by) Lady Galadriel of Lothlorien. It didn’t make him an instant Elf Friend, but after that point he treated elves with far more respect, and was able to cement his friendship with Legolas Greenleaf– and in doing so, rise above the animosity and racism that had existed between their two families since before Smaug took Erebor.

The way I see it, being able to answer those three questions will let you build vivid, dynamic characters– but that’s just my list.

What questions do you think a writer needs to be able to answer when they create a character? Let us know in the comments!

What is Demisexuality?

Let’s start with a vocabulary lesson:

A person who is Demisexual typically doesn’t experience sexual attraction to someone unless they have a strong bond with them first. On a similar note, a person who is Demiromantic typically won’t fall in love with a person without that same kind of strong bond. It’s on the same gradient as Asexuality.

We have a flag and everything. (image from Wikimedia commons)

Continue reading “What is Demisexuality?”

The case of the mistaken love interest

They’re just hugging, I swear! (Image from Alexander’s Ragtime Band, 1938, via Wikimedia Commons)

It’s our protagonist’s first day at a new school. She’s frazzled and distracted, her mind heavy with plot-relevant drama– and BAM! runs headfirst into someone, sending her books flying. She and this stranger look into each other’s eyes, and the readers are given a lavish description of how good-looking he is. Their hands brush as he passes her the books, and she immediately looks away, embarrassed by the contact. They make awkward smalltalk, and he welcomes her to the school and offers to show her to her classroom, adding in a joke that helps lighten the protagonist’s tension.

Oh– wait– I’m sorry, did you think he was her love interest? Goodness, no. He’s just a minor character! He’s just really nice, and she’s just socially awkward and easily embarrassed by physical contact. Why, what did you think was going on? Continue reading “The case of the mistaken love interest”

A tip from the internet

Meandering through the internet, I found a pair of images that really struck me. I’ll let them speak for themselves:

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Source: https://www.facebook.com/TheBestOfTumblrV2 – Originally found on Tumblr
monster
“It was finally destroyed with a nuclear weapon carrying the destructive energy of the Hiroshima bomb.”
Source: XKCD – http://xkcd.com/1257/

The difference between the first and the second is staggering. One is vivid and evocative, the other is silly– and makes a striking point. These comparisons are so overused (so cliche) that they have ceased to actually mean anything. Essentially the comic can be rewritten: “It’s big, it’s fast, it’s heavy, and it’s stupid… it ate a bunch of people, and caused lots of destruction.” And this is why we encourage people to stay away from cliches: because they’re generally just a very long way of saying something very simple, without adding any meaning or context.

On the other hand, the description of red is vivid. The color’s association with passion and rage maybe often used, but in this case it becomes personal, because it’s directly tied into the story that’s being told.