1. the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual. "running away was not in keeping with her character"
synonyms: personality, temperament, nature, disposition, mentality, makeup
1. The Monogram Scene
Imagine your novel being played on a stage. In the beginning of your story, give your main characters a scene or two that defines them as individuals; make them interesting enough to entice the reader to follow them through the story. These scenes must show who that character is at their very essence.
Think of key words that describe your character. How can you show this?
In NIGHT SHIFT, the protagonist, Daniel Gale could be described as vulnerable and lonely, but he also had a good sense of humour.
To help show this I have Daniel meet one of the clerks right after he gets hired.
Daniel didn’t feel insulted; he knew how scruffy he looked. He grinned, showing off his dimples. Flirting felt awkward, but he couldn’t ignore the lightness in his chest. “Actually,” he said, “I’m doing night security.”“Oh.” Her smile dropped. “Nice knowing you.”
The air had cooled. “Sorry?”
“The new night guards never stay for long.” She glanced around the area, and then leaned in so close he could see the sparkles in her eye shadow. “It’s like this,” she whispered. “Weird stuff happens at night.”
“Weird stuff?” Daniel repeated, raising an eyebrow.
“Unexplained phenomena after hours.”
Her eyes grew wide. “Strange noises, furniture being rearranged, displays messed up, lights going on and off for no reason.”
“Sweaters unfold themselves?” he said. “Sounds terrifying. I hope I survive.”
Hopefully it shows him for what he is, a lost young man who remains hopeful this last chance might be the one he's been waiting for.
2. The Momentum Scene
Build that anticipation! Momentum in your story is created by your character making a decision and acting on that decision. The scope of the decision doesn't matter, it could be big or small. However, it is imperative to use this scene as your character's time to show their nature. And because your character has made a decision, this changes the plot and should create more obstacles for their goal. This is all about creating tension, moving the plot forward, and building momentum.
In this scene from NIGHT SHIFT, Daniel is doing rounds after hours on his first shift, trying to convince himself the strange occurrences aren't ghost related. However, one moment becomes to real to ignore and he makes a rash decision.
Daniel’s breathing slowed down. He twirled the keychain around his finger a few times, trying to think clearly. It must be those day-shift jerks, he reasoned. He looked at his digital watch—they only had four hours left to scare him into quitting. Daniel cracked his knuckles and summoned some of his bravado from his hockey days. Bring it on, he challenged.
Strutting back to the piano, he grabbed the flashlight, trying to guess what their next trick would be. He was halfway to the elevator when the lights went out. He worked the flashlight switch, and then jiggled it up and down, but it didn’t work. “Shit,” he whispered.
Without warning, loud piano music cut through the silence and filled the empty room. Daniel’s heart threatened to explode. Someone or something was playing his mother’s favourite song—the piece he’d tried to play. He tossed the useless flashlight and ran to the elevator straight ahead.
Daniel’s outstretched hands made contact with the iron mesh. His fingers grabbed the edge of the gate as he swung into the blackness. But his feet never landed on the elevator floor. His legs just brushed against the greasy cables where the elevator should have been.
3. The Glimpse Scene
As a reader (and a writer) I need to find the character relatable, something that makes them real. Sometimes characters can seem too perfect, or too evil, or too...well, conceived by someone's imagination.
And if a character isn't believable, the story won't feel authentic, thereby decreasing the reader's interest, they simply won't care what happens. This is why the glimpse scene is so important. It gives the reader an inside view of the character's humanity.
It doesn't matter if your character is a superhero or a work-from-home accountant, there needs to be a human connection. To do this, show their fears, secrets, desires...all those things that make us human.
This glimpse scene in NIGHT SHIFT helps show Daniel's grief.
His backpack lay in a heap at the end of the bed. He pulled it over and rummaged down to the compartment close to the bottom. Carefully folded and dry in a plastic bag were several white handkerchiefs. His father had always carried one.“If it weren’t for handkerchiefs,” his father once told him, “I wouldn’t have met your mom.”Daniel sat on the hotel bed wishing for that moment back. Instead of brushing off his dad, he would have asked to hear the story about how his parents met. Years later, after the accident, Daniel would lie awake at night, making a list of all the things he never knew about his mother—even trivial things that never occurred to him. What was her favourite movie? Favourite colour? Favourite food? Did she like milk or sugar in her coffee? And what was the name of her favourite perfume?He never asked his father these questions—it was too painful and the words felt clumsy in his mouth. As the routines of school and work gave a semblance of normality, Daniel quietly filed each one away, waiting for when his dad was ready to talk. But that time never came.Daniel picked up a handkerchief and ran a finger over his father’s embroidered initial. It was something tangible that reminded him he had once belonged to a family.
Here are some quick writing exercises to help you get into your characters head.
- List as many bad habits you can think of (even some of your own). Is there a way to give one of these to your character?
- What does your character do when no one is looking. Sing? Dance? Make diabolic plans with homemade voodoo dolls?
- Take a few minutes to write a long list of key words that describe your character. Then cross out all the uninteresting ones until you have only three or four. How would you show those characteristics?
- Think about how your character was living before the story takes place. Is there a decision in their past they regret?
I hope this was helpful! Happy writing!