Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Take the snowflake test. Is your character unique?


A lovesick coworker stalked me for six years. A close relative died in prison. I was sold a fully stocked bookstore for only one dollar.

Do these events make me unique? Maybe. Maybe not. It might be that I only drink tea on every third Monday and then it has to be a blend of green and rasberry. (Not really!)

But if a dozen books came out on the shelves about women who have been stalked— and I wanted to write another one—it might not matter how unique I made my character. Unless maybe I came up with a new twist.

In the self-editing course I’m taking this month with Author Camy Tang, she reminds us to create unique characters. Too many writers create unforgettable ones. Too many create characters that have been done a dozen times or lack that little spark of uniqueness.

I had difficulty thinking how the character in my current WIP is unique. I almost wanted to toss the entire book.

But then it struck me. The woman loves magnolias. Every summer when her father drops her off at his friend’s cottage, she rushes to pick the biggest blossoms to set on the dinner table that first night. She leans over her upper porch railing into the morning air to inhale their sweet fragrance. She loves the trees and what they symbolize for her—a family. When a tornado later destroys them, it nearly destroys her as well. I had to develop this theme and carry it throughout the entire book.

Think about a person you won’t ever forget. What about them makes them so different from other people you know?

Now think about the character you’re developing. What makes them unique?

47 comments:

Lisa Jordan said...

In my current WIP, my female character owns a coffeehouse...ho hum...dozens of coffeehouses are cropping up all over. Well, my character is allergic to caffeine and all her food is homemade. I'm hoping these qualities set her and the coffeehouse apart from others out there.

Journaling Woman said...

Great information. Characters are my challenge in writing.

Sounds like you are learning useful information in your course.

Teresa

Katie Ganshert said...

Awesome post! A great reminder as I wrap up my wip and prepare for revisions. Make my characters unique!

Alan W. Davidson said...

Ack! My characters are all boring! *shreds MS, burns the remnants*

OK, so I'm overreacting a bit...you bring up some really good points, Terri. I'm sure everybody meets a handful of people in their lives that make a strong impression upon them.

You're getting some great information there. Thanks for sharing.

ginny said...

Ohhh, Terri, I want a copy of that book! Hurry and finish it so I can get it!LOL! I cannot wait until this one is published. You definitely have writing talent. Hey, if a woman from my church can write about "good" Victorian vampires, and sell her books at all the major book stores, so can you....keep going, you're almost there....I can see the finish line!

Janet Johnson said...

Great post! I think I'm going to have to think about this one.

Lin Floyd said...

interesting thoughts, will have to see if I can apply it to my non-fiction writing.

Jody Hedlund said...

I really try to think of a unique "tag" of some kind for each of my characters--maybe it's physical, or something they say, or something they wear. Even better is when we can get it to relate to the plot--like you did.

Diane said...

Something as simple as flowers can bring such beauty and warmth to your character. Great idea! :O)

Jen said...

I think this is great! My character has a very unique personality and in her world she is very unique. To us as readers I think she has certain quirks and likes that makes her different from the regular!

Julie Jarnagin said...

So true!

Heidi Willis said...

A great reminder, and colorful example!

I need to work on this in my current WIP. My last book's main character was a character. No confusing her for someone else! But this one... she blends a little too much I think.

I loved the way you worked your character's love into a theme.

Shirl said...

Oh my... yet another thing to think about. Another reason to toss mine out. It barely missed being tossed in the trash last night!

Jan Cline said...

Well, I could say that my heroine is unique because she is my mom, but that wouldn't matter to the readers! But really, I am building more uniqueness into her now, she was kind of "just there" without purpose. Can't wait to see how she ends up!

kathy taylor said...

My character is unique because of where she lives, what she yearns for, and how much like each one of us she is. I don't know if she is unique enough, but I really love the question you have asked us, Terri.

Susan R. Mills said...

My MC wears silky penguin pajamas to bed every night. I suppose that makes her unique, but I should think about this a little more. Thanks for the reminder.

Rachna Chhabria said...

Terri..great post. I think we have telepathy. I am working on the uniqueness of my character. She is a prankster and I am trying to come up with unique pranks to make her stand out.

Nehha N Josshi said...

From the people I know, my Father was unique in his own sense and I have NOT met a man in my life with so much passion for his work, without eating out on expressing his love to his family. Same goes for my Mother, she is equally passionate about her work.

Apart from my parents, my 9th grade commerce teacher was unique.

Julie Gillies said...

Hi Terri,

The main reason I love Jan Karon's books is her characters. They absolutely walk right off the page, sit down at my kitchen table and talk with me. They're SO real!

I don't write fiction, so I don't know anything about developing good characters, but even as a nonfiction writer I strive to make every person and scene vivid.

Blessings to you!

Jolene said...

I think it's not just making them unique but making them relatable. If the reader identifies with your MC, they're going to care what happens to them.

Karen Lange said...

This is an excellent thing to ponder. And ponder I must, for my main character has yet to be developed. Good food for thought, thank you!
Blessings,
Karen :)

Kenda said...

Great advice--thank you for making me think a little deeper about my characters! I especially like the idea of starting by thinking about a person that's different than anyone else I know, and figure out what makes them unique. A great writing exercise for this week...

Kara said...

Good point! Thinking back on the books I have read, it is those unique characters that I remember:)

Nancy said...

When I think of the characters I have loved, it is their heart that makes them unque, not so much something they may do.

I think the magnolia thing is cool because it does show your character's heart. But some manerism thrown in here and there, to me is annoying.

Sassy Granny ... said...

I think when we take the time to consider each and every person in our lives - even ourselves - there is ALWAYS something unique about them.

Whether writing about, or just considering such things, what a wonderful reminder to be on the lookout. It's just one more way we can catch people in the act of doing something right, or unique - and that's worth telling.

Blessings,
Kathleen

K9friend said...

Great suggestion. Unique equals memorable. What author doesn't want memorable characters?

Pat
www.critteralley.blogspot.com

Travis Erwin said...

I've been writing memoir for nearly two years and at this point I'm sick of myself. I'm antsy to get back to creating characters.

Rose Mary said...

This is a great post, Terri~you've got me thinking!

WritingNut said...

Very great post - I'll need some time on this one too!

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Terri -

Lots of food for thought here! Perhaps we need to look at the real-life characters around us - like my wonderful great aunt, who devoured us with kisses and fed us ice cream. :)

Blessings,
Susan

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Wonderful post, Terri! You are right your characters have to have more than one dimension. They have to have quirks. They most definately must not be perfect or all evil...Readers must be able to relate to them on some level. :)

Tabitha Bird said...

That is so true. Good info. I love that about your character :)

Jennifer Shirk said...

Very good reminder. I'm going to have to think on this. I think my heroine right now is kind of ordinary.

Lynn said...

Camy's course is good isn't it? I'm glad you didn't throw out your story!

Beth K. Vogt said...

At first I thought,"Great question--for my next manuscript!" Then I thought,"Well, I can think about this as I polish my WIP before I hand it off to my agent."
One more thing to do. Thanks.
No, really.
:O)
I hope I'll realize I got the answer to the question right all along.

Tamika: said...

I feel like I'm constantly developing this concept. Making my characters unique is and everyday labor of love.

Sally said...

Food for thought. It's stumping me to say on my current WIP so definately food for thought.

Jackee said...

Great to find your blog! :o)

I like to make my characters quirky and then often unique follows. But I do this only if it's a humorous tale. For one, I have a lumberjack who collects jellyfish as pets and keeps them in pools in a cave. Once I gave him that bit of silliness, his character came easy.

A stocked bookstore for a dollar?! Throw me into that briar patch! LOL!

Jessica Nelson said...

I really need to work on this with my characters. One heroine is a tandem skydiver and biker, but I think she's probably my most unique one.

Margo Berendsen said...

"Think about a person you won't ever forget." That's powerful advice! It is an enjoyable exercise to sit back and remember people that I may have only met once or twice, yet they stick in my memory. Some of them I remember because they confronted me (not necessarily in a bad way). Some I remember because they were larger-than-life personalities. Thanks for getting my imagination into overdrive! This will definitely help my characters.

Helen Ginger said...

Very good point. It's a good thing to consider for not only your protagonist, but all your characters. Thanks!

Straight From Hel

Lydia Kang said...

This is something I have to think about in my WIP. I think my MC is unique, but I may have to up the ante a little!

Deb Shucka said...

I'm pondering the difference between unforgettable and unique. You've really given me something to think about with this post, both as a writer and as a person. What is it that makes us unique in a way that is interesting to someone else?

Sarah said...

Terri, you are so inspiring. I love your tenacity. I hope you give yourself some credit. You are a bright light! I am looking forward to the day I will go to the bookstore and buy your book. I believe it will happen :)

Sarah said...

Terri, you are so inspiring. I love your tenacity. I hope you give yourself some credit. You are a bright light! I am looking forward to the day I will go to the bookstore and buy your book. I believe it will happen :)

Sarah said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rosslyn Elliott said...

I agree with Margo. It's great to sit back and sort through personalities I won't ever forget. Thanks for the encouragement!