Monday, April 9, 2012

Giving Characters Your Bad Habit

We are often told to "write what we know."  While that is awesome advice, it can be tricky to follow.  You want to write what you know.  But you also don't want to write an entire life story, all about yourself.  So how do you choose what to include in your creation, and what to leave out?

Recently I shared a post on my photography blog for the 30 Day Challenge I am taking part in.  That day's challenge: A Bad Habit.  I decided to show the world my fingers, and all the cuticle picking that they take.  It is my bad habit.  I hate it.  But as any bad habit goes, I cannot seem to stop.

This got me thinking.

What bad habits of mine could translate well into a story?  What bad personality traits could make the character I am creating that much deeper?

Yeah, I know.  Why on Earth would we want to forever share with the world our bad habits?
That's a simple answer: They make us human.

And these worlds we are writing, these characters we are creating... we are trying to make them as human as possible.  All the way down to the nose picking, gum popping, and trash stashing secrets.  That is what gives our stories depth.  It is what makes the reader keep reading, because they too have just eaten their fifth candy bar in under a minute and hate the fact that they cannot stop.

Here are a few of my tips for adding in your flaws:

  • Sit back and really think about what your bad habits are.  Yeah, sounds fun right?  Well, it is!  Take some time to go over all the bad habits and traits you have, and jot them down.  You can hide this list.  It is just for your personal notes.
  • Pick one that fits best with your character.  If he is a public speaker but can't shake the need to say "um," that's gold.  If she never invites anyone into her home because of her always messy counters, there you go!
  • Don't dwell on it.  While adding this trait to your character will add a whole new depth, you don't want to always be pointing it out.  Just like a bad habit in real life, you don't flaunt it.  Let the reader feel like they know a secret.
  • That is, unless you find the bad habit becomes the driving force of the story.
  • You don't need to let people know where you came up with the trait.  They don't need to know that you are the one who can't seem to stop picking your wedgie.  Just let your character get the bad rep.

I know with my writing I have incorporated bad habits both of my own and others I have observed.  It makes writing the story much more fun to do.  Finding the moment you can mention the habit once again.  Helping the character overcome it.  Or watching them fail to the trait.

Next time you are stuck and don't know what to do to your story next, give it your bad habit.  You just may be happily (and most likely embarrassingly) surprised at where it will lead you.

Write a short story, driven by one of your bad habits or personality traits.  Then post a link in my comments so I can read it!  

Happy Writing!

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