I am continuing my series on putting myself into my characters.
I have realized that this series could be taken as a "how to" by some of you aspiring novelists. I want to clarify here that this is not my intention. While these are tricks and methods I have used to create my cast of characters, I am not writing these out as a formula for you to go and try to mimic. What I want you to take away from these posts is not another writer's formula that will solve all your characterization problems. What I want you to take away is the honesty. A great character is an honest character. A great character is a mirror, not a mask.
Anyway, let me now continue with a short summary of another method I use for characterization. Let me call this method the Personality Method.
This method is the simplest when it comes to creating a dynamic character. It can also be the most painful, so you do have to be prepared for backlash. With this method, I write a personality much like my own into a key character. I then place that character in a situation dramatically different from mine. And I watch the character morph from someone very like me into someone completely unique--keeping in mind that situations will have a profound effect on shaping the soul.
I remember beginning to learn this method back in high school when I co-wrote a completely horrendous novel with my best friend. It's horrendous because it is so badly written, but we both learned a lot in the process. What I learned had to do with the Personality Method.
While my best friend wrote a heroine who was beautiful, talented, misunderstood, and completely and utterly desirable to all the best-looking young men in town . . . I wrote a heroine who was like me. She was shy. She was insecure. She was really, really wanting to be pretty, but far too awkward and insecure to actually get there. She had talents, but wasn't brilliant at any of them, and was far too insecure to let anyone see them anyway. She was generally quite well-liked by those around her, but not in a lauded or acclaimed sort of manner. She felt just kind of there and terribly shy about it.
And the only young men who sought her favor were the most awkward, ugly, immature, and obnoxious ones.
Heheheh. It makes me laugh to remember this! But that was very much me back in those days. It was what I knew and what I could write with honesty. And you know what? The precious few we allowed to see our horrendous novel all rather liked my character better. Because she was unique and universal all at the same time.
Most of us girls are not and never will be beautiful, talented, misunderstood, not to mention completely and utterly desirable to all the best-looking young men in town. But most of us girls have felt insecure and a little wallflower-ish now and then. Most us girls have felt a bit frustrated that the only guys who look our way are the last guys we want looking! At some time or another, that particular character's woes have been our woes.
So you put that character in a weird situation--and let me tell you, the situation my best friend and I came up with was weird--and it makes for both fun reading and fun writing!
While that book was a complete disaster, the method was a good one and one I kept in mind. Fast-forward now a handful of years to the summer just after I left college. I had been experimenting for some time with more Dramatic with a capital "D" characters, but struggled with writing any honesty into my work. The characters were all larger than life, but they were none of them very real. Archetypal, not universal.
So when the plot of Una's story came to me, I decided to write her as honestly as I possibly could. Who was I around eighteen/nineteen (so I looked back from the exulted maturity of twenty-one)? I was bored with my lot, looking for an exciting romantic interest to sweep in and solve all my problems. I fell in love too easily and had my heart broken more easily still. I gave my heart to a young man who told me to trust him, and I watched him forget this had ever happened and let others believe that I had made the whole thing up--thus making my subsequent depression seem like nothing more than an overblown reaction to my friends, many of whom thought I was delusional and spread gossip about me amongst each other. I became angry. Extremely, furiously, flamingly angry.
Yeah. I knew what being a dragon felt like.
So I wrote Una. I made her honest. I made her like me. I didn't just take one key struggle. I took a whole BUNCH of key struggles and combined them with a somewhat similar personality. I put me into her in a big way.
And to my surprise, I watched her become herself. Because again, the situation shaped her. And her situation, while reflective of mine and brutally honest, was significantly more dramatic and fantastic! So Una became uniquely herself. And she became universal.
Una is one of the most honest characters I have ever written. As a result, she is either beloved or reviled by readers--there's no middle ground where my foolish little princess is concerned!
Another character who was written with this method is Lady Leta from Dragonwitch. And, interestingly enough, Leta is the other female character besides Una who gets some pretty harsh criticism from the readers (though nowhere near as bad!). And she is, other than Una, the heroine most like me. Again, did I mention that using this method can create backlash? Writing honestly is not always fun!
Rose Red and Imraldera were also created with a more mild variation on this method. But really all of my characters are made up of such a hodge-podge of these various methods, it's impossible with most to single out one method that was used.
But Una, as my first major heroine written since high school, was definitely created using this Personality Method . . . it was the only method I knew how to handle at the time! And it's a great one, particularly when paired with others.