Hi, everyone! I have the flu this week, so today’s post will not be a long one. I have a question for you to ask your characters, regardless if they’re good or bad: what did they want to be when they grew up?
Here’s why it’s important to know the answer to this question.
“When I Grow Up”: Your Character’s Childhood Dreams Matter
We often struggle to create realistic characters; they don’t always seem believable. We can usually recognize characters that feel two-dimensional, but we don’t always know why. I’d like to submit that one of the primary reasons we have trouble with characterization is we rarely ask ourselves how our characters got where they are.
People don’t simply appear in their current condition, with beliefs and biases, scars and senses of humor, and all the details that pile together to create the construct of “self.” The combination of nature (your natural inclinations) and nurture (the environment in which you matured) combine to create the essential you. Well, your characters work the same way.
What Did Your Character Want to Be?
With very few exceptions, all characters had a childhood. What did your character want to be when they grew up? When they were young, what seemed like the best future path? What job did they want? What skills did they crave? What misconceptions did they have about that job?
I, for example, wanted to be an astronaut, but I also have a learning disability that affects my math skills. No math skills = no astronaut future for me.
That was actually a hard thing to accept, but it also defined my identity. Knowing I couldn’t “do” science-stuff led me to focus more on the arts, which led to taking pride in my creative ability and identifying myself as “a creative.”
That affected my choice of friends, my choice of college, my choice of reading material, and my everyday confidence. Once I self-identified as a “nerd” (i.e. geek, weirdo, strange), I altered my life’s path.
Your character’s childhood dreams work the same way. The success or failure of that dream (along with developing tastes or changing morals) is part of the journey that brought your characters to their place in your story.
And now, it’s your turn.
What did your characters want to be when they grew up? Let me know in the comments.
Take fifteen minutes and list your characters, then figure out what they wanted to be when they grew up. If you have time left, start thinking about whether they succeeded, and how that success or failure affected the rest of their lives. Post your practice in the comments below!
Best-Selling author Ruthanne Reid has led a convention panel on world-building, taught courses on plot and character development, and was keynote speaker for The Write Practice 2021 Spring Retreat.
Author of two series with five books and fifty short stories, Ruthanne has lived in her head since childhood, when she wrote her first story about a pony princess and a genocidal snake-kingdom, using up her mom’s red typewriter ribbon.
When she isn’t reading, writing, or reading about writing, Ruthanne enjoys old cartoons with her husband and two cats, and dreams of living on an island beach far, far away.
P.S. Red is still her favorite color.