Friday, January 16

How to Write Consistent Characters

Have you ever experienced writing a novel with colorful characters, and after the twentieth chapter, completely went off tangent on them? If you were me, by the tenth chapter, my characters would all be slightly inconsistent. For example, one of my characters started of with blue eyes and fair skin, and ended up with brown eyes and tanned skin with a foreign accent to boot--not even I knew how that came about. But then I realized the source to the problem. 

With my busy schedule and my day job, I only wrote when I could. And sometimes, it would be days in between writing. Although my plot was consistent, my characters surely were not! They were here and there, spilled all over my manuscript like disobedient ink. They could be so random sometimes I wasn't able to catch up. Like a confused parent, I would often call my characters by different names or give them different idiosyncrasies. Which was a terrible, horrible, vile thing to do as a writer. So I decided to stop and come up with a solution to all this before continuing. 

Sure, I could have pages of notes regarding each of the characters, but I knew myself too well. I would never in a hundred years refer back to those thick pads of notes I wrote. Neither would I remember to look at them. I tried sticking sticky notes all over my work station, and by the end of the week, I was tired of looking up and down to search for names and identities. So here is what I came up with. A picture board.

First, I am a visual person, and everything I write is completely drawn out like a movie. My characters have faces, and I like to pin them up for reference. I liken my characters to people I know--friends, family members, enemies, politicians, celebrities and so on. Then I'd search for these people in magazines and photo albums, cut their faces out and stick them on a picture board. Under each of the pictures, I write their names and certain particulars, such as dates of birth and things I want to remember about them. I don't make the list too long, just enough to trigger my imagination and memory. And that's it. So easy.

Every time I write about a certain character, I look at the picture board and imagine his face and his smile and everything else that comes with an expression. It's easier and more consistent. A right dimple will remain right and not roam into the left. The more I look at the faces, the more I know them, as if I am face to face with them. This way, characters will indeed be more consistent and real. It's almost like describing a friend.

Let me know different ways you conceptualize and frame your characters, and if my method works for you. Happy writing! 


Amber Lynn Argyle said...

So . . . when do I get to be a beautiful heroine in one of your novels?

Christopher Y. C. Loke said...

Oh, Amber, not to worry, you're already in my novel. But you'll never know which one you are until you read it. 'Tis true!