I'm delighted to have one of the authors here today to share his top characterisation tips. Without further ado, here is Ned Vizzini
Three Ways to Make Your Characters Unique
by Ned Vizzini
- Use who you know.
The easiest way to make a unique character is to take someone you know well—say, your best friend—and make one big change. You can make the character vindictive instead of kind, or a man instead of a woman. Then you'll have a character both familiar and novel. And as long as you make up a name, you'll never be sued!
- Don't be afraid to use accents.
Not every writer is brave enough to have their characters speak in the bonkers ways human beings actually speak. Here is Zadok Allen, the 96-year-old drinker and lore-keeper from H.P. Lovecraft's horror tale “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”:
“Dun't believe me, hey? Hey, heh, heh - then jest tell me, young feller, why Cap'n Obed an' twenty odd other folks used to row aout to Devil Reef in the dead o' night an' chant things so laoud ye cud hear 'em all over taown when the wind was right?” [full text]
You might think that's grammatically incorrect, or silly, or even disrespectful. But your job as a writer isn't to make your characters sound good; it's to make them sound real.
- Get in their heads.
Along with dialogue, quick snippets of a character's thoughts can really bring that character to life. Each chapter of House of Secrets has a narrator who presents the action and whose thoughts the reader can access. Here's an example, paraphrased from the book:
“Soon Brendan was not only convinced that the old crone wasn’t dangerous or supernatural (supernatural, come on); he was determined to go back and drive her from the property.”
Stephen King and George R. R. Martin are masters of this strategy; their work shows how a few off-the-cuff remarks from a character's brain make that character real.
Ned Vizzini is the bestselling author of the acclaimed young-adult books The Other Normals, It's Kind of a Funny Story (also a major motion picture), Be More Chill, and Teen Angst? Naaah.... In television, he has written for ABC's Last Resort and MTV's Teen Wolf. His essays and criticism have appeared in the New York Times, the Daily Beast, and Salon. He is the co-author, with Chris Columbus, of the fantasy-adventure series House of Secrets. His work has been translated into ten languages. He lives in Los Angeles.
I put a poster of House of Secrets up in the library this week. I've already had five students beg me to read it as soon as our copy arrives. Now that is the sign of a series that will take off.
Thanks to Ned for sharing his top tips.