Wednesday, March 4, 2015

What Makes A Person

It doesn't take a professional to identify my writing weaknesses. I tell instead of showing, my plots have big holes in them, the plot twists are relatively easy to see coming, my world building is weak, and I can't write deep characters. I've scratched the surface of the how-to in the writing world and I could think of those five weaknesses off the top of my head. If I wanted to be here all day, I could detail my weaknesses. The hard part is finding out what I'm actually good at.

I'm obsessed with people. I watch them, question their motives, eavesdrop on their conversations, and generally make the kind of judgments I hope no one else would make about me. Part of my love for people watching came from writing and part of my love for writing came from liking people watching so much. At thirteen and fourteen, I went through this phase where I'd sit on the front porch and watch the neighbors. I owned a ton of notebooks and had started filling them with my stories. Sitting on the sun warmed concrete of the little porch, I'd watch the neighbors and make little notes about them. It was weird and earned me a lot of teasing but I enjoyed it a lot. I made up all sorts of stories revolving around the different people I saw and used them for my books. 

Yes, you can totally judge me. I know I'm weird.

If this were a great success story, I'd end it with saying that's how I became an amazing writer and how I can build such great characters. Unfortunately, all that habit earned me was an insane curiosity about what those people were actually like and little to no improvements in my character building ability. At thirteen, I didn't think you even had to do character building in a story. I mean, why would that be important? 

Anyway, this all ties in to my current problem.When writing a first draft, I don't worry too much about my inability at world building or plot holes. I focus on getting my thoughts written out in a mostly concise manner and getting to the end. It's rough, ugly, and sometimes frustrating. But in order to have a good, solid story, you need to start somewhere. 

Looking at my weaknesses, I've identified the one that bugs me the most. The fact that my characters all feel shallow and very similar. 

I've written before about my fear of writing guys in my books. I'm always afraid they're going to seem as unrealistic as several male characters I've read in other women's writing. I don't have that fear anymore. I write guys all the time. Unfortunately, the lack of depth in my characters is a much bigger problem. 

I didn't know until two years ago that people put so much into developing their characters. I mean, they're a pretty important part of having a good book. Some may argue the most important part. A lame plot can scrape by with good characters. A strong plot isn't going to be much if you have a main character who's shallower than a puddle. 

For Only Human, I dabbled in character profiles and finding out true motivations. My current WIP is ten times harder.

Gwen lives in an abusive home situation, has abandonment issues, blames herself for the things wrong around her, and she gets transported back fourteen hundred years in time. How would she react to that? How would she make things work? What would she even say?

The things I've written about Gwen so far have read inconsistently. Sometimes she's all cowering and afraid and other times, she pulls herself together and does the hard thing. My personality is warring with how little I know about my character and it's showing. My home life couldn't be less abusive, I don't have abandonment issues, I occasionally blame myself for what's wrong around me, and I've never gone back in time. 

Now, you may ask, why I chose to write someone so different than me. Because I don't want someone like me going back in time to Camelot, I want someone like her to.

I have to know more about Gwen than whether tacos are her favorite food or not. I need to get to the root of her problems and her ambitions. I have to know her as well as I know myself. 

I put together a profile on her and every night, I enter in a bit more. I have a whole cast of characters to develop and have a profile started for almost all of them. In life, every person has their ambitions, their fears, and their inconsistencies. I'm super girly but I like playing Planet Side 2 which is a first person shooter (no, I'm not usually into video games. My brother started me on that one). To someone meeting me for the first time, they'd probably be shocked. I'm into all sorts of girly stuff, I wear makeup, I'm into music, I like bright pink and sparkles, and...I like first person shooters? To anyone who knows me better, they'll know it's not out of character at all. It's just part of what builds me into a three dimensional person and  part of what makes me interesting.

Actually, people are most surprised when they find out I'm a writer. Apparently my constant talking doesn't clue them in :).

With my character profiles, I started with the basics. Age, appearance, family. After that, I wrote any back story that came to mind, pertinent to the story or not. Truthfully, it's all pertinent. Everything about your character, whether it's liking orange nail polish or the dog they saw get run over when they were first learning to drive, builds them into something real.

I'll post a character update when I get a bit more advanced into my story and hopefully learn more about my characters.

- Anna Leigh 


  1. Character development is always pretty hard for me, but that best part of writing by far. There's nothing better than the feeling you get when you finally begin to understand what makes them tick--you've discovered a whole new person. Good luck!

    1. It seems like in life, some of the most difficult things are also the most rewarding. It's unbelievably hard for me but yes, I'm already starting to feel a bit of the reward.