Thursday, May 4, 2017

Little Things Can Make Your Ordinary Characters Memorable

By Maureen L. Bonatch 

Every time I see a butterscotch candy, or bread with an inch of butter piled on it—lots and lots of butter—I think of my grandmother, who we called, Nanny. 

Nanny has been gone for many years, but these simple things evoke my memory of her.

Visualizing a Character

I visualize Nanny's appearance in my mind, but I don’t describe her that way. I could describe her typical cotton dress, and her ever-present panty hose rolled down to ball just under the knee. I could detail her cropped, curly, white hair, and heavy glasses perched on the end of her nose. Or how she always cut the sides of her shoes to make room for her bunions.

Building a Setting

I could describe how she depicted her devout roman Catholic beliefs in her home. Or perhaps how she was always in the kitchen. That her freezer was never without ice cream and how she opened her heart, and her kitchen, to feed every person that walked in the door. 

Focus on Key Characteristics

But those aren’t the first things that come to mind. It’s the butterscotch candy resting in the glass dish in the parlor, and the mounds of butter stacked on a slice of thick bread that stuck with me for all these years. Those would be key elements if I was making my Nanny into a character. The rest might be essential in developing character backstory to help me understand the character better, but sometimes just a few little things can make a character memorable. 

My Writing Process

When a new character introduces themselves, they get right to the point. They start telling me their story. I might notice a few memorable characteristics in their personality, body language, or speech mannerisms and—off I go to wrap the character around those traits. It’s kind of like I found the egg and work backwards to find the chicken that created it. 

True confessions of a panster.

If you’re a heavy plotter, you might find this next paragraph upsetting and want to skip it. Since my writing begins with these few key elements, I’ve sometimes discovered I’ve written an entire book without identifying the color of the heroine, or the hero’s, hair or eyes. That my stories lacks those key descriptions. 

That’s because as a reader, I like to picture some of those characteristics myself. How I see them. Everyone doesn’t read/write that way, so I keep that in mind and go back and add some extra details.

In your Reading and/or Writing, What Comes First—the Egg, or the Chicken? (I.e: The Character or the Characteristics)

Author Bio: Maureen Bonatch grew up in small town Pennsylvania and her love of the four seasons—hockey, biking, sweat pants and hibernation—keeps her there. While immersed in writing or reading paranormal romance and fantasy, she survives on caffeine, wine, music, and laughter. A feisty Shih Tzu keeps her in line. Find Maureen on her websiteFacebookTwitter


CJ Burright said...

Love the post, Maureen - and all those personal details about your grandmother made it so easy to picture her!

Maureen said...

Thank you, CJ!

Diane Burton said...

Our grandmothers could have been sisters, Maureen. You made me "see" her. This probably sounds weird, but I see the chicken first and work back to the egg. My characters come full-grown then reveal themselves to me as I write. It's amazing how I'll be writing along then WHAM the character says something that makes me wonder where that came from. I love the discovery. Best part of writing, as far as I'm concerned. Great post.

Maureen said...

Thanks, Diane! That doesn't sound weird at all, actually if you start with the 'chicken' I would think there would be more mystery revealed with your character as you write which is really cool!

Anonymous said...

Loved it Maureen! I miss Nanny!
Love Kathy

Nancy Gideon said...

Great post, Maureen!! I love consistent character traits that carry over through out a story. They anchor the individual and make them unique. Habits, quirks, verbal idiosyncrasies create that familiarity needed to make the character "human".

Maureen said...

Thanks, Nancy. I appreciate you stopping by :)