Sunday, May 20, 2012

Aspects of Character Part 3: Tastes, Preferences, Habits, and Other Things that Make Your Character Come to Life

In the two previous posts on the aspects of character, I discussed archetypes and stereotypes and attitude. Today, I will talk about how tastes, preferences, and habits can bring life to your characters.

A character’s personality is extremely important, but even with a distinct attitude toward life with deep-seated fears and ambitions, a character may not appear to be fully developed. They can act like a character in a novel that moves along the plot, but the goal of many writers is to make their characters feel like real people. To make a character come to life on the page, they must exhibit traits and behaviors that real people do.

The small details of a character’s favorite foods and music, style of clothing, morning and evening routines, and even their favorite color are certainly not as important to the plot of your novel as their deepest motivations and fears, but once those required aspects of character have been established, a writer can use specific tastes, preferences, and habits to exacerbate the personality of a character. How a character takes their coffee can reveal many things: Do they have a sweet tooth? Are they a caffeine addict? Do they like those little leaf designs in the froth?

A writer can layer the symbolism of a character’s preferences to reveal deeper aspects of their personality. For example, let’s take the extroverted, optimistic young boy I created in the first post and expanded upon in the second. Let’s make him a vegetarian. His reasons for this decision can vary widely, but without knowing his reasoning, the reader can already assume certain things about him. Perhaps he simply doesn’t like the taste of meat; what would that say about him as compared to being concerned about the emotions or pain of the animal? If someone asks him if he cares about animal rights and he says no, he just hates the taste or texture of chicken, then the reader can see that he is a bit self-centered or arrogant.

Tastes, preferences, and habits can do more than reveal the personality of a character. They can also be used as plot devices. Yes, this little boy is a vegetarian, but what if he were allergic to nuts? Where does he get his protein? Does this make his musculature weak? He probably is not very strong, maybe even has a protein deficiency. This would cause some health problems for sure. It also reveals that he is even more arrogant than we previously thought; he is allergic to nuts but refuses to eat meat because he hates the taste; he is motivated by external pleasures and sensations rather than internal emotions and concerns. This could add a lot to the plot, what he does or does not do in order to satisfy his motivation. And it is also an extension of his extroversion, seeking out external pleasures rather than internal.

To sum up, a character’s tastes, preferences, and habits can add depth to their personality and motivations, making them seem more like a real person rather than a character from a book, which is what many writers aim to do. These aspects of a character can also move the plot along, tying a character’s personality to the advancement of the plot and making your novel much more character driven.

Peace, Aimee

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