I will thank the Lord with all my heart as I meet with his godly people. How amazing are the deeds of the Lord! All who delight in him should ponder them. Psalm 111:1-2 NLT

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Not Your Typical Car-acter

There's a certain room in a friend's house that makes me smile every time I walk into it. A drum set surrounded by pink ballerina wallpaper. Pictures from a hummingbird calendar bumping up against posters of military planes and tanks. The kid who lives in the room is growing up. The contrast in the decor shows that. Which side is going to win out--the soft ballerina or the tomboy? Or...maybe there doesn't have to be a winner. Maybe the contrasts are what come together to make her so unique. She's not a stereotype. She's one of a kind.

Can you say that about your characters?

There really are no new plots, right? I mean, you can mix different components together and tell the story in your own voice, but just about everything's been done. So one way to make your story stand out is to make your characters stand out. Here are a few ways you can do that:

Irony: Rachel Hauck's upcoming release, Dining With Joy, came about because of this question: What if the star of a television cooking show couldn't cook? That question alone makes the character memorable. Lisa Jordan has a work-in-progress (WIP) where her coffee shop-owning heroine is allergic to caffeine. That's not quite as plot-changing as Rachel's character, but it doesn't have to be. It adds in a little touch of uniqueness that, combined with everything else, will help to set the story apart.
Contrast: Say a small-town shy chick buys a purple low-rider with ground effects, big wheels, a funny horn, and a really loud engine. Why would she do that? Because she's tired of being a wallflower but can't change that on her own? Just because she really likes the color purple? Or is it because, even though the car itself draws attention, the windows are tinted so she remains hidden? Or maybe she's not really shy-- she's just been pretending, because she's in WITSEC (Witness Security), but her drug world past can't keep itself hidden. Whatever the reason, that car is going to make you dig deeper, and it's going to add an element of surprise to the story. (Just fyi, it was none of the above. And I no longer own my little Sidekick, but isn't she cute?)

Out-of-the-ordinary: What about a first grade teacher heroine who whittles in her spare time? That's a little unexpected. Why would she whittle? That's what I wondered, too, when I wrote Double Take. The knife was added in only after a Genesis judge (thanks, Gina!) suggested Kenzie should be doing something with her hands while she's watching TV during a particular scene. Knitting? Nope. (No offense, Lisa!) Cooking? Well, it doesn't really fit in with the timing. How about whittling? That seemed a little random, though, so why would she have that hobby? Turns out, she had a pretty good reason, and the knife she used ended up being a rather important part of the story.

These things can not only develop unique characters, but also deepen your plot. So now it's your turn. What character really stands out from a novel you've read? Why? What is one quirk/hobby/treasured possession/whatever that you could give your main character to add a surprise element to your story? No stereotypes allowed!

Jenness Walker


  1. Such a easily-put-into-practice post, Jenness. By that I mean, you gave such solid--and intriguing--examples of how to make your characters stand out, I'm, um, pondering all my characters. How do I make them quirky or quirkier? Use irony, contrast, or out-of-the ordinary things.

  2. Okay, who are you and what have you done with Jenness?
    LOL. Joking of course. Great thoughts as usual. This isn't something I've been particularly good at doing, so you have made me think. Thanks!

  3. Thanks, Beth!

    What, Cathy? You mean because I actually blogged? :-) This is something I'm preaching to myself, too, so if you run across any stereotypes in my wip, feel free to break out the stink eye or something.

  4. I love these practical tips for creating unique characters! You've got me thinking...and that's quite an accomplishment.

  5. I love this post, Jenness, because it's sparking all kinds of "what if?" questions in my mind. I've got basic ideas for two more books - can't decide which to start first. And in both ideas, I've got that ironic premise to kick-off from...but it's the characters that will make the stories come alive. Thanks for giving me a starting point as I try to turn my flighty-writer-excitement into hardcore storycrafting productivity...:)

    p.s. cute car!

  6. Jenness

    Thank you for your post! I love how you give practical things to consider. I have so much to learn about writing, and you've got me pondering my characters and how to make them unique. I think I need to go back and get to know them a little better. Thanks for the challenge!
    P.S. I recently finished reading a novel with a character in WITSEC, and it made me want to know more!

  7. Developing unique characters is something that does not come easy to me. I know I need to do more than just add a quirk - that quirk needs to be organically woven into the character AND the story, like you did with Kenzie's whittling in Double Take. Thanks for these practical ideas!

  8. I always wondered why some books I couldn't put down and others were so so. Its the layers of the character that makes them unique. My WIP has a grease monkey, who is an EMT, who has a wicked curve ball. So if this was a guy you'd think, ho-hum. But its not its my heroine, raised with seven brothers! There is no way she'd be caught in anything frilly - but that's exactly what she needs to do! It's the characters that make the story what it is.

    Great post Jenness !

  9. Jennie, your story sounds fun. :-) Good going on creating an interesting character!