Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Differentiating Characters

blog00My 10 year old daughter met a tough challenge successfully yesterday and I told her she could choose a reward to celebrate.

She chose a Happy Meal from McDonalds. :) I got off very cheaply, and—since she’s the only member of our family who likes McDonalds —she got something she wanted, too (since who knows when she’ll get that fast food fix again?)

Her Happy Meal box was covered with gobs of marketing stuff, of course. The theme of this meal was a tie-in to a show that she watches on the Nickelodeon channel. One of the games on the box featured a list of sentences for children to connect to different characters on the show. Not catch-phrases, not quotations, but just likely things for the characters to have said.

I’m driving the car and she’s immediately assigning each character to a sentence. Right off the bat. Then she looked at the bottom of the box. “I got them all right!”

And I have to say I was very impressed…well, after wondering whether she was watching too much TV. :) The show has obviously done a bang-up job differentiating their characters.

Could I do the same thing for my own characters? It probably depends on the character. It would be easy for major or recurring characters. Secondary/supporting characters? I’d like to think so. But maybe it would take longer than the 10 seconds my daughter spent on her answers.

Apparently, on this show, one character is very vain, one has an overbearing mother, one has had a long-time crush on another character, etc. Not too far off from the kinds of things we’re doing with our books. We’re just doing our showing with words…we get a strong impression of a character who opens his car door and an avalanche of papers and food wrappers occurs, for instance.

We’re giving our characters personalities by showing how they interact with other characters (they’re supercilious, stubborn, cheerful, touchy) how they react to difficult situations (they get frustrated, they become leaders, they run off and hide), and—like the Happy Meal—showing character clues through dialogue (their choice of words, speech patterns, vocabulary, etc.).

How do you help readers differentiate between your characters?