Building Character

There are a million ways to create a well-rounded character, and all of them crystallize with concrete details. Today I’d like to share one small example.

I was reading an interview with a young actress, Elisabeth Moss, and a couple of times she described things as “super-[fill in the blank]!”

You know: “I was super, super, super-happy” and “she’s still super-young.”

That appealed to me as a writer, for a number of reasons. It’s a youthful, energetic, and distinctive way of speaking. I immediately imagined a female character who uses that phrasing in her dialogue. Since I’m currently revising a book, I’ll look at giving that vocabulary to a character (and only one character). I may discover that it works,  or find that it’s unnecessary or even excessive. We never wish to gild the lily. In which case I’ll file it away — read: hope to remember it — for another day.

The point is, I do seek out particular phrases or speech patterns for different characters. Charlie Brown says, “Good grief.” Jigsaw Jones says, “Oh brother,” “Go figure,” and “Yeesh.” Another character might say “like” a lot or utter something like, “Am I right or am I wrong?” As a writer, you try to find those singular ways of speaking, anything to help individualize a character. Then you look at clothes, or mannerisms — the way Mila Yeh pulls on her long black hair, or another character scratches behind his knees — and those specific details build character.

So thank you, Elisabeth Moss. You were super-helpful!

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