Tips on keeping a character consistent?

by JL

Hi Glen,

Do you have any tips or insights as to how to make it easier to, I guess, know your characters to the point that you don't have to think about what they would say in any given situation? Actually, maybe the question is, is there a more efficient way of keeping track of my characters' personalities other than rereading the story from the point I first introduced them? I've thought about taking notes, but if there was a better way I wanted to ask you before I did anything.

I feel like I have about three characters that I have down because they're meant to be more extreme types in their personalities, so those are easier for me to write. The problem comes when I get to the more down-to-earth, "normal" characters. There is one in particular that doesn't seem to have a voice, even though he did at the start of the story. As I read my book from the beginning, this character was clearly meant to be a Han Solo type in the first chapter, but as soon as he's hit with tragedy he turns into a mix of Harry Potter and Anakin Skywalker. In the latest chapter I wrote, I tried to go back to that funny Solo type with him, but again, the circumstances he was put in in that same chapter left him acting more like Potter. I'm not sure if this is three-dimensional writing and the character actually has more than one side of personality, or if I'm being inconsistent with him and writing him badly.

I care a great deal about consistency when I read and watch movies, so you'd think I'd be good at this, but I tend to overthink things and, as you know, it's called "over"thinking because I do more of it than
I should, so it's bad and it makes me insecure about my writing, haha.

Any advice? I've been making Myers Briggs personality profiles for each of my main characters as a guide, but given that I have a personality that they don't, I fear that I might be unconsciously writing them as if everyone thinks like I do.

Answer: The simple truth is that the more time you spend getting to know your characters, the easier it is to know what they will say and do in every situation and the easier they are to write.

Many writers create character questionnaires -- a list of standard questions that they apply to each character they create. Good questionnaire address many different aspects of the character, such as physical appearance, background, current life, personality, relationships, etc.

(I have one such questionnaire in the Step-by-Step Novel Planning Workbook that I sell on this site, not that you can't create your own.)

Questionnaires not only help you develop a strong sense of your character, they also help you keep track of choices you have made about a character. For instance, if you are writing chapter 12 and can't remember what colour eyes a character had in chapter 2, you can check your questionnaire.

Another way to get to know your characters is to spend some time writing from their point-of-view. This helps you understand what they think and feel about things.

For instance, it's one thing to assign a character a Myers-Briggs personality code. But it's far more illuminating to write a diary entry that expresses that personality.

Finally, characters will grow and change in the writing process as you discover more about them and see them in action. The revision process is an opportunity to go back and make the characters consistent or clarify their arcs.

Best of luck.

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