Consider Character Reviews
What are character reviews?
Much like reviewing a piece, I’m looking to start reviewing my characters. Because if these works never see the light of day, then this may be the only real way to get this information out there. And, if any of these works are published, then these character reviews should provide some insight.
Not that you’re waiting for it, of course. But it matters to me.
I tend to like following a set format for things like this, as that makes it far easier for me to write these from scratch. It also helps to inspire.
Hence, my character reviews will likely contain at least some of the following:
- Where They Came From — how did I conjure someone up? Are they based on anyone I know?
- The Past is Prologue — what is this character’s backstory? Did they have a happy childhood? Or an unhappy one?
- Descriptions — what’s the picture I see when I write a character? How do they sound like to me? Do they have an accent? Or do I see some actor or actress ‘playing’ the character?
- Quotes — what have they said that’s profound? Or funny? Or just plain identifying. That is, no one else could say that. Or a certain quote completely epitomizes the character.
- Relationships — not everyone has love, and sometimes they lose it. But virtually all of my characters interact with … someone.
- Continuity/Easter Eggs — many of my characters cross-reference each other in some manner. How do they work together? And how do they work within the greater context of everything I have written?
- Future Plans — whither some of these characters? And once they’re gone, whether they exit stage left or are killed off, who’s going to miss them? Will you? Because you see—spoiler alert—I already know that I will.
Character Reviews and the Importance of Characters
Readers can and will forgive a lot of things. But it’s very difficult to get them to forgive poorly drawn characters. Although (I’m looking at you, Bella Swan) they may forgive sketchy characters where they can fill in the blanks.
But I don’t do that with characters unless they’re in a subsidiary role. The main character needs to be knowable. Although I will sometimes take my own sweet time when it comes to tearing off all the veils. But that’s to be expected, for getting to know the characters should be a part of the plot and, really, a part of everything to do with the book.
This is what I tell newbie writers: every chapter, every word, every character, every scene, every book in a series—they all must fit into at least one of exactly two purposes.
- It advances the plot or
- The scene, etc. helps the reader get to know the characters better. In particular, it helps the reader get to know the main character better.
One Special Character
The truth is, I am not so sure I will review this type of character. Although I might. Who am I talking about? Well, this character isn’t a ‘who’ at all. Rather, this character is the scene. It’s the place.
For familiar places in the present time, the writer doesn’t have to set the scene too much. At least, not to start. Hence if I told you the story takes place in 2015 Chicago, you probably have an idea of what everything looks, sounds, and smells like. Even if you’ve never been to Chicago, and even if you were just a kid in 2015, you have a pretty clear picture.
A Less Familiar Character
But now, let’s go to a more obscure place, or a more obscure time. It’s not Chicago anymore. Now, it’s Bannockburn, which is a suburb of Chicago, apparently. I’ve been to Chi town but never to Bannockburn, and I never heard of it until I just Googled it. I chose it 100% at random.
What if the setting is now 1975? I was alive then, and I remember it pretty well. But were my readers alive then?
And, suburbs may sometimes feel cookie cutter, but they still aren’t the same. Bannockburn is north by north-northwest of Chicago, and it’s not on the shore of Lake Michigan. If the images I found online are any indicator, then it’s a ritzy area where people have money.
An Even Less Familiar Character
Now, let’s pull back even further. Bannockburn apparently was incorporated as a village in 1929. But European settlers were there as far back as 1835. Wikipedia puts its current population at around 1,500. In the nineteenth century, it’s highly likely that the area had fewer settlers.
Anyone writing about Bannockburn before it was even named will have to contend with the changes that have happened in the world since then. There are a ton of differences between now and around 100 years ago.
What about the Bannockburn of the deep future? Does it even exist? When you consider how much life has changed in the past century, and that the pace of change is only accelerating, the difference between the Bannockburn of today and the one of, say, 3422 is going to be huge.
Like I said, I’m not even so sure I’ll be reviewing scenes. But if I do, then obviously the structure will differ. I guess we’ll both find out soon enough!
Beyond Character Reviews to My Own Future Plans
What I mean here is, beyond just what should happen to a character, where can they fit if I want to write about them again? Or do I want to revisit their world?
And, do they inspire someone or something else? A good, well-developed character can do more than just anchor a story or even a series. It can also plant the seeds for more storytelling, and not necessarily in the same universe.
Because sometimes a character works very well for certain purposes, but not so well for others. Or a character may not have fully realized their potential. And so I may be able to fix that with just creating someone who is brand new, rather than trying to fix the original.
Character Reviews: Takeaways
Looking back is always helpful, I’ve found. And it can also spark future creativity. After all, what if a character ends up having descendants? Or I find some other use for them?
Maybe their final curtain call doesn’t have to be so final after all.
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