AN INTERVIEW WITH KELSEY SHADES OF WRITERS SANCTUARY ON CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT.
Kelsey Shade is an organizational enthusiast, a happy wife and mom to four boys.
She currently works in the Canine Genetics field for a Dog Training Organization that specializes in therapy and emotional support for dogs. In her words “Writing is my hobby! By stealing a few minutes here and there, I’ve learned it’s how I de-stress and balance my otherwise demanding lifestyle”.
Although she has written countless articles for her job, fiction is where her heart truly lies.
Her first fiction novel, Dreamteller (a YA Fantasy), was finished last year and is currently undergoing the editing process.
She has also outlined and just begun her second novel, Death Angel (an adult Dystopian/Science Fiction).
When asked on her writer’s group membership, she gladly declared, “I’m a member of two different writing groups.
A local, in-person group in my area, and another online group called WRITERS Sanctuary. It’s basically a group of likeminded individuals who encourage each other, give feedback, and share the same goal: Writing good novels!”
To Kelsey, there are three main aspects of a good novel; a riveting plotline, a developed setting, and memorable CHARACTERS.
Character development is crucial in helping the readers relate to your story. If your characters are flat or unbelievable, it won’t matter how engaging your storyline or story world is, the reader will have a hard time ‘getting into it’.
“I don’t know if there’s a ‘single perfect way’ to craft memorable characters” She says. “The way i do it is to ask myself some basic questions:
1) What’s this character’s purpose in my story? Why is he/she necessary?
2) What does he/she really, really want?
3) How can I prevent my character from getting this right away?
4) How does he/she respond to this unsatisfied desire?
These are core questions about character development, I think.
After that, it’s easy enough to fill in a typical writers’ bio and decide on the character’s appearance, personality details, talents, weaknesses, clothing style, family members, philosophies on life/religion, etc.”
Kelsey confesses that when she began writing, pretty much all of her character developments were difficult. Plotting came naturally, but creating characters that didn’t look/act/think like cardboard cut outs was harder.
She acclaims to spending time fishing them out, giving them motivations, specifics, etc. To do this effectively she sought inspiration from pictures found on Pinterest; an online imaginary creative media. They helped her visualize characters. Kelsey attests, “Learning more about MBTI personality testing helped me in differentiating between characters.
Matching characters personalities to certain people I knew in real life helped me envision what that person would do in that scenario. Because I’m a compulsive list-maker, I remember writing down all my favourite characters from books/movies at some point, and then tried to pinpoint exactly what I liked about each one. I did this with villains too.”
What exactly was it that made these certain people so intimidating, complicated, and easy to hate?
WHAT’S THE WEIRDEST MOTIVATION THAT YOU HAVE EVER IMPLANTED IN YOUR CHARACTER?
“The weirdest motivation? I’m not sure I’ve given a character anything truly ‘weird’… Motivations I’ve used include greed, mere survival, fear of guilt, a burdened conscience, the desire to help or save someone else, basic altruism, revenge, acting in protection of loved ones, desire for redemption, the desire to achieve or ‘be the best’. Y’know… The typical fantasy, action, sci-fi stuff.”
“Character descriptions, Personally, I’m a fan of the ‘less is more’ approach. Giving your characters a simple ‘prominent feature’ can help identify them, especially if you have a large cast, but I don’t think readers need (or want) a head-to-toe description upon first meeting.
Personally, I think referencing just eye-color is overdone (how many piercing blue-eyed characters do we really need?), so my go-to is usually body structure (lean, stocky, lanky, wispy, etc–think beyond just tall!) combined with a mention of hair color and a prominent facial feature (square nose, high eyebrows, thin lips, etc).
After that, leave the rest to your readers’ imaginations!”
PICKING NAMES FOR CHARACTERS IS A CONTROVERSIAL TOPIC. SO WHAT IS THE SECRET?
HOW DO YOU SELECT SUCH GREAT NAMES FOR YOUR CHARACTERS?
“Ooh, names! I love names!
First, decide on your character’s ethnicity and social group. That’s going to guide which name pool you jump into and start Googling.
For example, in Death Angel, I have a woman from a hispanic Catholic background.
Using the name ‘Maria’ seemed too obvious, so she became Miriam Garcia instead, a nod at both her faith and linguistic heritage, an Italian/American character I named Markos Valenti after looking at list after list of Italian names.
I have another character from an elite British/American family, the kind who sends their kids to Harvard or Yale.
That character’s name became Kent Worthington Alby the III, since he seemed like the kind of kid whose parents wouldn’t care about a little pretention, and who probably valued re-naming children after people in their family line.
Lastly, I have two sisters who are a beautiful mix of African American and Spanish background. I imagined their mother (who actually isn’t in my novel at all) was an artsy one who loved unique, flowery names, and so Evolet and Keturah Beale were born. So basically, think of the characters’ upbringing and heritage.
Google common surnames for that ethnicity, and then ask yourself… What would their parents have named them? Also, what suits their personality type? Is your character modest and unassuming? Or loud and reckless? If you can, name them something that matches there too!”
Finally, The best way for me to analyze a character in someone else’s story is to pinpoint what grabs my attention. Is it his self-sacrificial attitude? Is it his do-or-die determination? Is it his easy-going, lackadaisical manner?
What do I LIKE about this guy (or girl)? Or, if it’s a villain (or maybe a poorly written character gone flat), what do you NOT like about him? Is he wishy-washy, cowardly, overly-emotional, selfish?
If you’re unsure how your characters are coming across, find a beta reader, or offer to swap chapters with someone else.
Make sure you have a thick skin first, but then ask them to honestly give you feedback on how your character is coming across.
Sometimes, we can’t see what we actually have written because so much of what we envision about the character might still be in our heads. The tricky part is learning to convey it to paper! Happy WRITING!
And if you’re looking for a place to connect with other writers, get insights on writing and writing tips for all your writing problems, https://bit.ly/2SyrC1k
is the place to be.
We engage other writers personal experience to educate and teach you about writing.
If you enjoyed this interview, please leave us a comment.
You can also read our previous posts on writing here: