by Elijah Shoemaker
When I started writing my first novel, coincidentally the novel that I am working on at present, I began with your basic brainstorming/mind-mapping/prewriting methods. It was extremely haphazard, since I honestly had next to no idea whatsoever to do in order to get the process going, but I got it down on paper. One of the sheets I wrote up was a list of characters, each with a description of all their information, in detail, next to their name. Then I started writing my first chapter.
As I went, I knew I had details worked out as much as I could possibly need to, at least as far as I saw. When I showed my first couple chapters to a fellow author friend, he read over them and looked up at me with a raised eyebrow. When asked about his quizzical look, he mentioned that all of my characters seemed to be exactly the same person.
I made sure to let him know that his perception could not be further from the truth. In the middle of my explanation about why this was the most erroneous statement ever, he waved his hand in front of me and told me that just because I, the author, knew all the little quirks and individualities of each character did not mean that the reader had access to these tidbits of information. “So you mean I have to tell the reader all these details about the characters?” I asked him, cocking my head slightly as I did so.
“No, no, no – you have to show them these details. Write so they see these personality traits in the things the characters do, how they speak, what they eat – things like that!”
So I did.
And I’m still doing it. As in, I’m still working on getting it right. Though writing with this kind of detail takes a lot of time and effort, it’s turning my book into a story worth reading and sharing with the world. There have been times when I’ve written a scene I planned out in advance and I have to stop typing because I’m crying so hard I can’t see the screen. When it gets to the point that someone else reading my book is brought to tears over what happens to a character, I’ll know I finally got it right: I will have made my characters as human as is humanly possible.
That’s what I think we should all strive for: making characters that steal the hearts of our readers. And to do that, we need to let every single reader who picks up the book in on every single character’s personality quirks.
Embrace the quirks! Embrace them!
As a child, Elijah Shoemaker fell in love with comic books. He found he could lose himself in a universe where the underdogs stood a chance at rising above. Constantly pushed around and ridiculed, Elijah found comfort in the graphic novels. Now, his goal is to bring the hope he found in those graphic novels to children in middle and high school. Bullying and a cruel caste system exist even more than they did when Elijah was growing up. He writes superhero fiction to give the youth of today a spark of confidence that they can come through victorious.
Good article! When I read your stories, and Patrick’s, I thank goodness I grew up in a small town in southern Indiana in the 1940s and 50s, when there were no bullies. There were one or two kids whose parents had more money than we did, but most of us were poor farm kids. So, today’s young people would find our growing-up years….boring!
Thank you for the character graphic. The entire post moved me.