Character Development Via Pet PeeveCharts and graphs and lists of questions are great ways to develop your characters, and later in the week, Priscilla Kissinger will share some fantastic interview questions with you. But today, I want to demonstrate how you can use people, places, or things that irritate you to add dimension to the characters who populate your stories.
One piece of writing advice that has stuck with me is that a part of you has to come through on the page. I took that “write what you know” suggestion to heart when it came to developing characters, and the greatest compliment I continue to receive with my published short stories is that the characters seem real. I believe they feel realistic to readers because I shade them with things that irritate me, my pet peeves, if you will. Adding irksome characteristics to your secondary characters, heroes, or villains can not only enliven your prose, it can provide a lot of humor, and, as an added bonus, work these irritations out of your system.
Think about how a family member or friend annoys you. Maybe one of your friends speaks in clichéd catch phrases (examples: “the whole nine yards,” “I’m done”). Or perhaps, your mother, like mine, tells you to wear lipstick—frequently. My mother’s top three reasons? I look pale without it, lipgloss doesn’t equal lipstick, and a lady should never go out in public without a little slick of Wild Irish Rose on her mouth and a pat of powder on her nose. My mother (I do love her, just wanted to make that clear) also, on occasion, when she comes to visit, has the habit of replacing items in my house that she doesn’t like—without asking. These things have included kitchen placemats, bedroom pillows, and once, and I swear this is true, the toilet seat in one of my bathrooms. So I took these traits that irked me, beefed them up a bit, and added a few other behaviors that my mother doesn’t have to create Aunt Fanny, a character in “A Very Mossy Christmas.” http://www.bellebooks.com/MossyCreekChristmas.html Another one of my mother’s traits that grated on my nerves a while back (before she got on the exercise wagon and the Weight Watchers program) was that she addressed her high cholesterol problem by taking medication and continuing to eat whatever she wanted. I gave that little trait to one of the Quinlan sisters in “Resolutionary War” in A Day in Mossy Creek. Both Fanny and Spiva were secondary characters, and my heroines were irritated by these behaviors. One caveat, do get permission from the family member or friend first and explain that you are creating an amalgam. Ensure that the character you’re imbuing is different in many, many other ways.
I have not as yet used a place, but I have been gathering material for future use. One place that continues to irritate me is the grocery store. I like to have food in my house, but I hate to spend the time shopping for it. I despise long lines at the check out, and I loathe bagging my own groceries because the manager hasn’t figured out what time of the day is busiest. Another place that irritates me is a restaurant that won’t take reservations. I could go on, but I think you get the picture. Put a character in these sorts of irritating situations and your reader will think "me, too."
Items that irritate can be car keys or glasses that you can’t find when you need to leave the house, computers that freeze up, and Christmas lights. Yes, Christmas lights. I fully admit to having issues with icicle lights that dangle year round. I lent that peeve to my heroine Patty Campbell in “Blinded by the Lights”in A Day in Mossy Creek. Phobias can also provide great opportunities for character development. Take for example the television show Monk. The hero Monk is a former police detective struggling with his obsessive compulsive disorder and germ phobia; his idiosyncracies make him funny and a great detective. I took advantage of my own fear of clowns or coulrophobia and gave it to my heroine Julie Honeycut in “Be Mime” http://www.bellebooks.com/BeMime.html
What are your pet peeves? How can you use them to your advantage in developing your characters?