Or Finding Your Own Bad Habits
Now, the first thing I’m going to say about creating characters is Do Not Outsmart Yourself With A Clever Naming Scheme!
I speak from experience. Ignore the weird names in the following examples. Or take them as a lesson on what not to do.
What I’m examining right now is how I introduce new characters when I’ve already got my POV character set. I have to see the new character through his or her eyes, and what the MC sees and infers is the information the reader will get.
Analyzing your own writing can be a bit surprising. Take this bit, a newly hired professor, with the head of the department . . .
“Now, we’re short on office space, here. I’m afraid that with a staff of just three, including yourself, that the Magic Section staff gets stuffed wherever we can squeeze them in. Unfortunately the Languages Department claimed Dr. Yppo’s office . . . and they were right that we’d borrowed it years ago from what was originally their part of the building.”
Rael eyed Department Head Eshy.
He’s enjoying this. Putting the new Professor in her place.
Dr. Eshy stopped a nondescript door, not at all like the paneled oak door of his own office. He was smiling as he handed her a key.
She unlocked the door and pulled it open.
About two and a half meters deep, and the same wide. Three battered metal filing cabinets. An oversized closet. A small file room.
She grinned. “Oh. This is going to be fun.”
“We’ll find you a desk, and some chairs, for student conferences.” A smug smirk on his face.
Rael waved an airy hand. “Not to worry. I’ll take care of redecorating.” And removing that smug grin of yours. “I’ll have it all spiffy before the students get back from Ramadan in two weeks.”
She pulled open a drawer of the middle file cabinet. It screeched and dragged. “Empty? Good. Why don’t you have them removed, and I’ll get busy.”
He looked puzzled, as she giggled and bounced away.
Okay, I think I managed to convey that he’s going to be a real gem to work for, and will deserve the smack down he’s going to get. On the other hand, there’s not a single mention of height, weight, coloring, accents, facial hair . . . Hmm . . . Let’s find another one.
Chancellor Adse didn’t rise as she was ushered in. Nor did the old Princess sitting across the desk from him. Neither of them showed the faintest sign of shaking hands.
Rael tossed a smile at the man. “Sorry you were bothered by this matter, Chancellor. I thought Professor Jues and I could handle it, but give the shocking evidence of long term prejudicial grades and grade adjustments, it probably does need to be handled at a higher level.”
“Excuse me?” The older woman straightened and glared. “Are you questioning my grading methods?”
Professor Jues huffed. “I have been entrusted with the teaching of Introduction to Magic for eighty-four years now, and I have never been insulted in such a fashion.”
Rael popped out her comp and opened it, it searched automatically for the room screen and connected. “Really? But I understand that the Directorate School has had to protest your downgrading of our students every single semester and that you always backed off. Looks like a stupid power play to me. An ego boost to make the Directorate professor crawl.”
The Chancellor growled. “Our instructors can, at their discretion, take or add up to a full point from any final grade.”
Rael paused. “Up to a full point? Is that an actual written regulation?”
“It’s in the School of Magic’s by-laws.”
“I see.” She tapped at the comp and the pleasant picture on the wall disappeared, replaced with a graph. “In that case I suppose fifty years of the directorate students coming in regularly a half a point below the Magic students represent a one point down-grade, corrected to a mere half point down-grade is explained.”
“How did you get the office comp password?” The Chancellor glared.
Next graph. “So I looked at this fall’s group to try to find the problem . . . then I checked a few more years, and this is actually typical. The test grades were a complete mix, if anything those green line Directorate Grades being . . . let’s see I thought I had one with the averages for each group . . . yes. The Directorate students didn’t do any worse than any others.”
“How did you get those numbers?” The Chancellor was turning red.
“Here’s the preliminary final grades sent to Professor Jues . . . and the finals she posted . . . and the differences.” Rael eyed the woman. “Down two full points. Except for these two who had three points removed, causing them to flunk the class.”
“At my discretion . . .”
“Looking at all the students in that class . . . only the Directorate students were downgraded. You upgraded five Magic School students to prevent them from flunking.”
“You have no right to those figures! You hacked my computer!” Jues rose from her chair, fists knotted.
“I’ve got to say I admire your nerve, downgrading Milo here at triple the amount your by-laws allow, and flunking him.”
“That drawling lounge lizard? Lazy good-for-nothing! Is he some relative of yours?”
“Err, no. He’s Prime Councilor Igsu’s son.”
A faint choking sound from the Chancellor. Jues’s eyes widened.
“Actually I wondered if . . . well never mind.” Rael looked beyond the woman to the Chancellor. “As your staff has clearly exceeded your by-laws in a clearly prejudicial attack on Directorate students, I expect you to correct this situation.”
The Chancellor rose now and lean over his desk. “Oh, you expect, do you? And what if we don’t?”
“It’s too late.” Jues sneered at her. “Those grades are on their permanent records, now.”
D’you know? I really had no idea I was so bad at mentioning physical details. Personalities, yes. Hair color? Zip. Good thing that’s an incomplete rough draft.
Now I’m going to have to find some good physical descriptions just to salve my wounded self-image.
The wolf heard it first. Slinking down, ears focused beyond the next hill. Xen went to one knee and watched where the wolf was focused. And caught an odd sound . . . not a clanking, more of a smooth metallic sliding, thumps and rustling grasses. He tried an illusion of grass . . . no idea if it worked.
Movement at the crest of the hill. Metal . . . coppery metal that brought up some bad memories . . .
A robot climbed over the crest of the hill, details emerging. The head with glowing red eyes. Xen could see the exposed metal and plastic scaffolding of the legs.
He blinked at the lack of much in between the head and the legs, then the robot turned a bit and Xen could see the long metal muzzle, could see that the body was behind those legs, wide and solid. With another pair of legs behind. A robot in the form of a fat dog?
Crap, I really hope that thing is not here to hunt down people who survived their being injured and dumped here.
The dog’s head turned and studied him.
An illusion won’t fool a camera, a computer. I haven’t tried a light warp yet. I wonder if I can slice?
Then a synthesized voice from the hill. “Miss Cali? I have located a human.”
A head popped up from the broad body. Human. Messy brown hair.
“Is it Daddy? Did you find him?” A little girl voice, barely heard.
“No Miss Cali, it is a stranger.”
Xen stood up and banished his possible-illusion. He raised his voice. “Hello. I’m Xen Wolfson.”
The little girl conferred with her robodog in a low voice. The robot’s replies, urging caution, were clear. And finally, “Accepting order, Miss Cali.”
The robodog walked down the hill toward them, an odd sliding gait without the slightest jolt to the body between steps.
The Master Hunter backed away growling, then turned tail and bolted.
“Oh!” Miss Cali stood up inside the dog’s body and watch the fleeing wolf. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare your doggie.”
“It’s just as well he ran off.” Xen studied the robot as it neared. The wide body was an oval bowl, about right for the kid to curl up in. “Hunter’s actually a wild wolf and not completely safe to be around.”
The robodog stopped a few feet in front of him.
If it attacks now, I’ve got no time to see what works.
The girl climbed out a side that suddenly bent outward and formed a step for her. Then snapped back into place and the whole body scrunched up into a nice slender robodog body.
Xen decided to start the ball rolling. “A man came to my world, sitting on a throne, on a copper carpet.”
The girl hunched her shoulders. “That’s the judge.”
Xen touched the ugly barely healed scar on his chest. “He hit me with an electrical current, and I woke up here, three months ago.”
The girl nodded. “They were going to transport Daddy, and Uncle Connor, and Uncle Jerry, and Uncle Sam. I ordered Killerbite to run and jump onto the Carpet of Judgement right when they transported . . . he had to go so fast . . . then they transported . . . and he ran right off the other side. He turned around to run back . . . and they transported again.
“Now I don’t know where they sent Daddy.”
“Kill . . . o-byte . . .” Xen cleared his throat.
Right. I spent three times as much verbiage describing the robodog than describing the girl, but then, anyone can picture a little girl with messy brown hair. Further details of her appearance aren’t needed. What matters is that she’s a nice, polite little girl who’s looking for her Daddy, who’s in trouble.
And when it’s all said and done, it’s getting into the reader’s mind and getting them to picture the character themselves that should be your goal.
They should see in their minds the smug jerk, like that guy they used to work for. Or the people in the other department who’ve been messing up for years and aren’t about to admit wrongdoing. A little girl with a problem, and a robodog.
Take out your work in progress. Give your introduction to the characters a good look. And see if (ahem, like me) you need to drop in just a bit more description, or if you have to opposite problem and leave the character of the Character opaque.
Rael eyed Department Head Eshy. Tall, bulky. Expensive suit. Good head of hair, for a guy who must be pushing the century mark. Distinguished silver streaks. Bet the black part’s dyed.
And he’s obviously enjoying putting the new Professor in her place.
Yeah, that’s better.
Give it a try—get the personality in there _and_ the physical description.
And the inevitable self-promo: