Having different traits for each of your characters helps keep them unique and stops them from blending together. But these traits, be it flicking their hair in a certain way, fiddling with a piece of jewellery or constantly clearing their throat, must be consistent throughout your story. This is how your reader identifies your character. I have put together some articles and podcasts that address character consistency and things to consider when creating your characters.
Keeping your character traits consistent is an important step in polishing your manuscript. You can do this by isolating each point of view and working on them separately. Make a list of their prominent character-defining traits and behaviours and any phrases they use regularly. It is just as important not to overdo it with the repetitive traits.
This article from Darcy Pattison shares 5 Ways to keep characters consistent. Keeping a character bible can be helpful. It doesn’t have to be complicated but list characteristics in a file or notebook. Creating a separate dialogue file for each character makes it easy to see what they say and how they say it. Make sure you re-read sections if you have long spaces between writing and editing sessions. Immersing yourself with a character for a day, and lastly, writing an obituary of your character can help you to focus on the character’s traits, dreams, hopes, and goals.
- Building Consistent Characters. Characters must react in a predictable… | by M.L. Keller | The Writing Cooperative
Creating characters means establishing a pattern of behaviour. When characters behave inconsistently, they aren’t realistic. A character’s actions shouldn’t serve the arbitrary needs of the plot they should be governed by the character’s personality. The Writing Cooperative tells the writer to plan your characters to make them feel real. You must be able to answer questions such as What does your character want? what is she willing to do to get it? and, what personality faults are standing in his /her way? If you are a panster instead of a plotter, then keep a character sheet and fill in personality traits as you discover them. By mapping out your character’s journey, their arc, it can help you keep your characters consistent. A dynamic character arc must have a clear chain of causation – you must show the reader what prompts that character’s change. By having consistent traits and/ or well-defined arcs, your characters will be more believable, more relatable, and more memorable.
It is specifically because someone loves your characters and cares about their journey that they’re willing to follow them through the entirety of it. This article from self- publishing shares a 12-step character development plan. These steps include creating a background for your character, giving them strengths and weaknesses – avoid making them a perfect character, giving them nervous ticks and a unique feature. Give your character realistic motives and create an impact of your character’s past. And importantly, avoid character stereotypes. Each step is explained, and a character development exercise accompanies each step. At the end of the article, character arcs are explained and 50 Character development questions are shared.
Learning how to keep your character consistent takes time. Elmarie says you must take the time to put some techniques in place and shares 5 ideas to get you thinking about keeping your characters consistent. As writers, we’ve technically given birth to these characters so we should know them. Create a profile for each character and immerse yourself in your character. Spend time doing writing exercises in which you write both about your character and as your character. Note the important details so that they stay consistent throughout your story. Remind yourself that they are real as long as your characters and the scenario they are in ring true. Remember it is not you who is speaking! They must sound individual. Give them traits, dialects, or idiosyncrasies. Elmarie’s last point is not to go long periods without writing or you’ll start to forget your characters.
In this episode, Savannah talks about the deep and specific questions that will help you get to the heart of who your character really is. These questions will help you develop and write your story. By asking these five questions, you’ll start to see your story take shape before you even consider things like story structure, setting, point of view, or dialogue.
The Well-Storied podcast host, Kristen, explains why characters are often defined by the archetypes they embody and developing characters who experience a wealth of emotions beyond their defining archetypical traits can lead to a cast that feels fully real and believable on the page.
In this episode from Writing Excuses, they’re discussing who, in archetype terms, everybody in the ensemble is. How can archetypes help us get started, how can they help us set reader expectations, and what are the archetype-related pitfalls we need to avoid?
Spending the time developing and getting to know your characters will, in the long run, help you to write real and consistent characters. Doing writing exercises and putting your characters into various scenarios to see how they will react is a good way to get to know them. You may never use these in your actual story, but they will give you a deeper understanding of your character. I hope this week’s column has been useful. As always, if there are any topics you would like me to cover, please get in touch.
(c) Lucy O’Callaghan