I like to write dorky characters. Why? Well, because I am a dork. I’ll admit it. But take it from me, a proud nerd and overall goofball, that dorks are cool. How can this be, you ask? It defies the very laws of nature for dorks to be cool! Well, if you’ve ever met a dork you’ve probably stumbled upon whatever he or she is interested in and been talked to death about it. Example: my husband. Major World of Warcraft dork. If I get him going, he will talk me into a coma about raids and armor, and talent points. And if I make fun of him for this he simply shrugs me off and turns around to keep playing his game. Because he loves it.
Dorks in general are probably the most self-assured people I’ve ever met. They are passionate about their interests and aren’t afraid to love them despite others’ criticisms. This, to me anyway, takes great courage. And for that, I have to say it again: dorks are cool!
They’re also cool to write, which is why I often cast my main characters as awkward, or in some way socially challenged. Helping them overcome their awkwardness is part of what makes the story great and relatable, since we all have a little dorkiness inside us that we have to defeat. But it can be difficult to write awkward characters without falling into that dangerous clichéd zone. You can’t have every character you write trip over her shoelaces and land into the arms of the hottest jock in school. It just gets old after a while. You have to keep it fresh, keep it (dare I say it?) real.
Easier said than done, I know.
One of the most difficult (and most fun) parts of writing is figuring out how to write believable characters. Sure, it sounds simple enough, and the skilled writers would have you believe it is. But try sitting down at your word processor and writing a character that not only feels believable, but is so well-crafted that they become actual living, breathing people. In the minds of your readers, anyway. It’s difficult! Any writer you can think of– me included, to be sure—has experienced problems with character building.
You need to create a character with depth, with flaws and opinions; one who makes mistakes and sometimes does trip over her shoelaces. But you also need to help her overcome her awkwardness and her fatal missteps, lead her to triumph, and sometimes even true love.
Easiest way to do this, in my opinion, is to write from life. Everyone—and I mean everyone—has been embarrassed from time to time. I’ve fallen in public more times than I can count, and I’ve said and done things that, today, mortify me beyond belief. So when I’m trying to write a scene in which my character has completely and utterly humiliated herself beyond all repair (such as the stands scene in Abstinence), I think back to when I went sliding toboggan-style through the halls in eighth grade and came up looking at a crowd of my peers gawking at me. I channel the mortification I felt in that moment and I type it down before I have to relive it for too long.
The same goes for all different types of emotions: anger, love, happiness, jealousy, you name it. We’ve all been there and experienced these emotions in some way, so use them! You have all the tools you need. You know how to write a sentence and how to form coherent thoughts, so use those skills and the emotions taken from your own life experiences to create characters with lives of their own. By using real emotions and real experiences, you can learn to craft characters that feel so believable your readers will feel actual loss after finishing your work—like they’ve just said goodbye to a dear friend. And that’s what we all want, right? To evoke emotions in our readers? To write stories—whether they be romances, comedies, chillers, or mysteries—that people will remember long after they’ve finished them.
It takes practice, that’s to be sure. And you’ll have to work at it nearly every time you sit down to write a scene. But in the end, it’s worth reliving that time you spilled chocolate milk all over yourself in front of your crush, because if it makes your character feel more real, then I say spill it again!