PICTURE AT BOTTOM MAY OFFEND SOME ANIMAL LOVERS...OR PEOPLE WHO LIKE BABIES.
One of the criticisms often made about writing is that the characters all sound the same.
I once got the remark on an excerpt of my work that my characters “all run and jump the same way.”
That was a remark I really had to consider. And it’s a criticism that I have something of an issue with, particularly in the mystery genre.
For me, specifically, the story in question involved a team of police officers. Young officers. All in good health. Laying off the donuts.
Short of giving one a bad leg or some truly bizarre characteristic, they were obviously going to “run and jump” similarly.
Although in that particular excerpt, they neither ran nor jumped.
But they did react. And I could look at the main characters sharing a scene and see that some of their reactions were pretty similar.
However, that doesn’t surprise me either. The truth is, if you present a dozen people with similar careers and experiences with the same situation, there’s a good chance more than a few of them will react the same way.
In this case, it was the body of a child. This is not when the cops start with the wisecracks. This is when everyone gets solemn and serious. And angry.
I felt that the criticism was going a bit too far, in that particular case, considering it was a judgment on a few thousand words and hardly the whole manuscript. But the comment isn’t wholly without merit.
There are definitely times when characters appear to be nothing more than replicas. One of the things you have to do is strive to give each character their own voice, which will be defined by a combination of things. The way they speak, the way they react, what they do when nobody’s looking.
In essence, you give them life.
It is easy to criticize writers by saying that their characters all sound the same, but the reality is that if you walk down the street where I live, most people do sound the same. We use the same slang and lazy speech. We talk in cumulative conversations that have been accruing since the snowstorm of 1998. The passing chatter on the street isn’t a conversation in itself – it is simply picking up where you left off last time you were in the store, or ran into them on the way to the post office.
In my writing, I’ve had to really look at what defines a character to me on the page, and it isn’t as easy as it sounds. One of the characters in a manuscript ended up becoming a major character in the series, and it wasn’t even planned.
He just had this great attitude, and he was so much fun to write. And he demanded more than I’d planned to give him. He lives for me.
A few others, however, fall short of the mark.
As I’m editing, now I’ll be looking for what it is that makes this character seem flat, or not quite as believable. In truth, it’s this one pesky manuscript that I haven’t touched in over a year that’s the problem.
Thank God for publishing contracts so that I don’t have to look at my one stand-alone for some time to come!
But I find myself wondering what tips and strategies you use to give your characters dimension. And what makes a difference to you as a reader, what makes you believe in one as opposed to another.
I’d welcome your thoughts.
3 LADIES IN A HOT TUB - an old joke, but it seemed appropriate for today's post and I still expect laughter, dammit!
THREE WOMEN -- ONE GERMAN, ONE JAPANESE AND A HILLBILLY WERE SITTING NAKED IN A SAUNA. SUDDENLY THERE WAS A BEEPING SOUND. THE GERMAN PRESSED HER FOREARM AND THE BEEPING STOPPED THE OTHERS LOOKED AT HER QUESTIONINGLY.
"THAT WAS MY PAGER," SHE SAID I HAVE A MICROCHIP UNDER THE SKIN OF MY ARM."
A FEW MINUTES LATER, A PHONE RANG. THE JAPANESE WOMAN LIFTED HER PALM TO HER EAR. WHEN SHE FINISHED, SHE EXPLAINED, "THAT WAS MY MOBILE PHONE. I HAVE A MICROCHIP IN MY HAND."
THE HILLBILLY WOMAN FELT DECIDEDLY LOW TECH. NOT TO BE OUTDONE, SHE DECIDED SHE HAD TO DO SOMETHING JUST AS IMPRESSIVE. SHE STEPPED OUT OF THE SAUNA AND WENT TO THE BATHROOM. SHE RETURNED WITH A PIECE Of TOILET PAPER HANGING FROM HER BEHIND. THE OTHERS RAISED THEIR EYEBROWS AND STARED AT HER.
THE HILLBILLY WOMAN FINALLY SAID, "WELL, WILL YOU LOOK AT THAT, I'M GETTIN' A FAX."