Many people in my life get teased or called shorty by me at least once. Sometimes they really are, but most of the time, it just because the top of their head maxes out below my own six feet. You wouldn’t believe how many people tell me I look taller than my headshot…
When I was going into kindergarten, I was five years old, 50 inches and 50 pounds. I’ve never been small or short. Ever. In elementary, I was always on the back row in programs, usually wrestling with the curtains because the really tall people are back row and to the side. When I started 9th grade, I was already 5’9″. And then I grew three more inches.
Once upon a time, I dated a guy who was 6’9″. It absolutely weirded me out. To tilt my head upward to make eye contact was the most bizarre experience. Standing next to him shifted my entire paradigm.
And I hated it.
That’s not to say that I always love being tall. I’m completely guilty of the knee bend, head tilt, and other posture manipulations when it comes time to take pictures and everyone is inches shorter than me. But in my day to day interactions, I feel more comfortable with my place in the stratosphere.
I think these little nuances are what we often forget when we are forming and developing our characters. We narrow down style with ease, for some people voice joins quickly. But we need to remember, written or not, that there are experiences that have created norms for our characters, ways they interact with the world that feels comfortable. With any ethnicity, with any culture, with any body type, gender, personality, political leaning, etc., there are REASONS a person has the preferences they do.
And the reasons for those preferences say a great deal about who that person is, who that character is.
So take a character that has fallen a little flat, that your readers say they struggle to connect with, that seems to coast from scene to scene. Over and over, ask yourself why. Why don’t they leap from the page? Why do they stay in the background so easily? Why aren’t they emotionally vibrant? Imagining them in a social setting (party, classroom, board meeting) why do they react when they hear their name the way they do?
And while not everyone has to be a kickass heroine predestined to save the world, sometimes they are. Ask the why questions again. Why does this person accept the call? Why do they push beyond their natural reluctance (because they always are, at some point) to do what is difficult? Why are they able to turn on the charm, the wit, the charisma at just the right time all the time?
What happened in the normal, everyday living that made them who they are?
Going through this process for characters will naturally lead us to self-reflection and encourage conversation. To understand motivations of others, we have to understand what motivates us, what makes us feel comfortable and what makes us uncomfortable. And we have to know how the motivations of others are different. It can be an awesomely terrifying experience, but doing so will allow us to know ourselves better, to know our characters better.
Tasha Seegmiller is a mom to three kids and high school English teacher in Southern Utah. She writes contemporary women’s fiction with a dash of magic. Her loves include Diet Coke, owls, chocolate and cinnamon bears. She is the managing editor for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association quarterly newsletter.