I have a confession.
I am hooked on Bon Appetite’s (BA) YouTube videos. And it’s not because I like to cook.
It’s because I am deeply invested in its touchingly human, and hilarious, cast of characters. Someone at BA made a brilliant creative decision to design cooking scenarios that play to the human foibles of these folks, and I can’t stop watching. (The recipes are legit too. Some have even made it into my regular cooking rotation.)
To really experience it, you need to watch these people cook. However, those videos are too long for this setting, so try this little sampler instead to see what I mean.
If you watched, you saw that these aren’t glossy professional cut-outs dispensing sage advice. They are silly, sometimes wrong, bickering, and earnest human beings. How they say something and interact is more interesting than the ostensible topic at hand.
Whenever there is a new video, it gets top priority for the evening’s entertainment in our house.
If strong characters can do this for cooking shows, think about what they can do for your writing.
Make your characters:
- Grab the audience’s attention as quickly as possible
- Real and flawed
- Ensnare the reader emotionally
- Identifiable on a personal level
- Reveal vulnerability
- Want something
There are even checklists to help us develop our characters.
These resources make it easy to get started with your character development if you need some inspiration.
I find not having a compelling character to work with saps the joy from my writing.
For example, I am currently developing a short horror story, which even though I quite fancied the set-up, has been quite the tedious chore to write.
That is until my main character popped into focus.
Now I can’t stop writing about her… to the point where I currently think short stories about her can only be a prelude to a novel where I can really dig in. Plot twist!
But getting my character to that point was harder than all of the copious advice out there suggested it would be. I followed those suggestions, did thought experiments, and even filled out a partial development checklist, but that rough sketch of my character, Marta, still wasn’t real to me. I had to put her through her paces and see how she would react to sharpen my understanding and really get to know her. This took many drafts and venting sessions with my writing group. Too often, I felt like giving up on the whole damn thing.
Then one day, without warning, I found myself on the edge of my seat while I was writing, literally scaring myself because I was worried about Marta.
The lesson learned for me was that character creation is not formulaic. Just like getting to know a new friend, it takes time, effort, and listening to what they have to say.
But it’s worth it.
What helps you get a good handle on your characters?
Let’s discuss it in the comments below!
p.s. I totally ship BA’s Brad and Claire: