I worry about my heroes and heroines.
While surface characteristics like hair and eye color, height and weight are pretty easy to figure out, the more I read about or research characterization, character arcs, etc., the more I become Regan from The Exorcist. Panic and doubt become a living demon inside me. Eyes rolling, head spinning and ready to spew... I flounder. Is my hero strong enough? Is he sympathetic? Is my heroine making her own decisions or am I making them for her.
To put it bluntly, I doubt myself; I doubt my writing; and then I doubt my ability to create realistic, likable characters. And if they're not realistic or likable, then do they really deserve the happy ending I have planned for them?
Whenever I have these freak-out moments, I do what I've always done... I turn to the dictionary. I find comfort in the basics. Do you?
So what does "character" mean?
Here's my favorite definition: "The quality of being individual, typically in an interesting or unusual way."
A straightforward, punch-you-in-the-gut sentence that knocks the freak right out.
All we have to do is create, explore and write about interesting individuals. Basics... remember?
So what makes your heroes or heroines interesting? Professions, experiences, upbringing, etc. Start there and expand.
I received some invaluable feedback on my first manuscript. "Make your hero seem more like a normal guy," a contest judge said. "Give him a quirk."
At first, I balked at this suggestion. I mean, my hero must appear to be the perfect Alpha Male; he's every woman's fantasy. He doesn't have a hair out of place, EVER. Well... unless the heroine musses it with her fingers. ; )
But the more I thought about the idea, the more I liked it. Quirky little habits or traits makes my characters more approachable, not just to the reader, but to me, as well. (I always think of Indiana Jones and his fear of snakes. Loved that!) So in my latest manuscript, my hero has a habit of humming songs to himself as a distraction. For example, when he "rescues" his best friend's inebriated sister from a bar, he hums the lyrics to Dwight Yoakam's Little Sister. I love his quirk, because in this particular scene the meaning is two-fold: he tries to distract himself from the sight of her long, lean legs sliding off the bar stool AND remind himself that as his best friend's sister, this woman is off-limits to him.
The quirk also pops up later, when the heroine dares the hero to let her kiss him.
"Just one kiss," she whispered. "Just one kiss and if you don't feel the way I do, then I'll never mention any of this again."
"One kiss? That's it. Then you'll leave me alone."
"Yep. But, you've got to give me a chance though. None of that humming."
She'd noticed that.
"What?" She shrugged. "I see -- and hear -- things."
In this instance, the hero is surprised that this woman he's always thought of as his best friend's self-absorbed baby sister would have noticed anything about him, especially a trait so private and personal.
So how do you approach characterization?
Have you ever given your heroes or heroines quirks?
What works, what doesn't?