FANDOM


Trivia, Knowledge, and SkillsEdit

I'll take trivia for 100, Alex.

I've mentioned this a few times. Trivia. What's wrong with it?

Nothing, per se. Whatever helps you know your character more is always a good thing. The issue with trivia, though, is that many writers start and stop with it. Here's a character I created just now:

  • John Bedford, age 27, a server at Applebee's.
  • Brown hair, brown eyes, clean-shaven. 5'10" tall, 180 pounds.
  • Attended University of Washington for two semesters before dropping out.
  • Has been to Mexico.
  • Has a dog.

Some people think their character is just the culmination of a list of facts. And then they shove all those facts upon the reader all at once. That's like having a stranger come up to you at a party and proceed to tell you all about himself for no reason. It's annoying and you don't actually get much acquainted with that character. Do you feel like you really know someone in real life after that?

The point is to go beyond just the basics. We've already done that, though, so it's moot. But that doesn't mean the trivia can't serve a purpose.

Take another look at the description I presented above. We can still use trivia to get enhance everything else. The idea is to have the whole package; the trick is knowing what facts to share with the reader so they don't say, "How is this relevant?"

Any trivia that helps enhance the story or make the character more interesting is always going to be more potent than just dry facts. Let's try:

  • John Bedford, age 27, a server at Applebee's.
  • Has to cover up a full sleeve tattoo. Used to be in a band.
  • Brown hair, brown eyes, clean-shaven. 5'10" tall, 180 pounds.
  • Attended University of Washington for two semesters (philosophy major) before dropping out.
  • Left town because he caught the singer of his band sleeping with his fiancee (hence dropping out).
  • Went to Mexico to see if he could live the high life without having to pay a fortune.
  • Has a rescue chihuahua named Cheech.

It's a good start. He's beginning to have some personality, and all I did was dig a little deeper. Notice, though, that the facts became interesting only after I answered the why behind them. This ties into the same reason for finding the character's motives before. Most of the time the why is what makes something fascinating, but sometimes you can create intriguing trivia without the why.

  • Cam checks his mail but never takes any inside until nothing else can fit in there.
  • James sometimes likes to read westerns while taking a bubble bath.
  • Sarah's friends think she is weird because she's never used a curling iron or straightener in her life.
  • Tiffany only ever smokes half a cigarette.
  • Michael won't write anything in pen except to sign something.

Any bits of info that help provide insight into the quirks or personality of the character are preferable over just random things that seem to be irrelevant or serve no purpose. If you find yourself with a long list of facts about your characters and can't figure out how it all applies to your story, try unearthing a little more about each fact, try to make them interesting. You'll start seeing more personality shine through, then you can take some of that trivia and have it play a role in shaping your character's present thoughts or actions (what made your character this way?).

Let's take a look at some possible trivia we can use to take our characters to the next level.

Some Possible TriviaEdit

Some possibilities...

TRIVIAEdit

  • Age:
  • Occupation:
  • City:
  • State/Province/Region:
  • Country:
  • Accolades and Accomplishments:
  • Mode of transport:
  • Interests and Hobbies:
  • Best friend:
  • Relationship Status:
  • Relationship Overview:
  • Pets:
  • Habits:
  • Groups, teams, organizations:

HISTORICAL TRIVIAEdit

  • Birthdate:
  • Birthplace:
  • Education:
  • Field of Study:
  • Graduation Year:
  • Places visited:
  • First job:

FAVORITESEdit

  • Sport/Team:
  • Books:
  • Films:
  • Music:
  • Games:
  • Foods:
  • Quotes:

Knowledge and SkillsEdit

What does your character know? What can your character do? If your character has a brain, he or she knows things, how to do things. How much or how little they know will play a part in other aspects of their being. Because, like anything else, how the character responds to this knowledge or lack thereof contributes to who they are. Some examples to illustrate the point:

  • The character is very cultivated and reacts to this fact by being arrogant and condescending (Dr. House, Sherlock Holmes)
  • The character is very cultivated and reacts to this fact by being charismatic and interesting (Jay Gatsby)
  • The character is very cultivated and reacts to this fact by being subtle and intriguing, with a hint of haughtiness (Hannibal Lector)
  • The character is very cultivated and reacts to this fact by being cocky and charming (James Bond)
  • The character is very cultivated and reacts to this fact by being humble and sagely (Gandalf)

So in this example we used the same general knowledge and applied it to characters with different personalities. Bear in mind that sometimes the personality dictates what a character does with something like knowledge (condescension, etc.), but somethings the knowledge changes the character's disposition. That's what we're looking at here.

How does what the character knows affect his or her disposition?

Some characters get cocky because of their accomplishments or intellect (Will Hunting). Some characters are able to maintain humility.

The other thing to consider is whether or not this knowledge or skill can help the character accomplish the goal. One common trope in fiction is the seemingly trivial piece of knowledge or skill that ends up playing a major part in the finale. In the movie Signs, all the weird quirks and skills of the characters justify their existence in the story by being the saving grace at the end. Luke Skywalker, who happened to be "the best bush pilot in the Outer Rim Territories," was able to pilot the X-wing.

Take a moment to think about what skills or knowledge your character has. How does that information play into the story? How does that information contribute to the character's personality?

Exercise 1: TriviaEdit

Answer the previous Trivia questions (age, education, etc). If something is not applicable, just put "n/a". Then next to each one, see if there's a way to make it more interesting or relevant to your story.

Exercise 2: Favorite Character TriviaEdit

Do the same for your favorite character. How much did the creator use trivia?

BackstoryEdit

Where did your character come from?

We've already worked with backstory a little bit, but now we want to go ahead and figure out the rest. You don't need to know your character's full biography, but it helps to figure out how they got here.

Some things to consider, as they may relate to your character in the present:

  • childhood - How was the character's upbringing? What were the parents like?
  • relationships - How did their other relationships help shape who they are today? (friends, other family members, teachers, church members, neighbors, bosses, coworkers, boyfriends/girlfriends, other mentors)
  • environment - How did their environments help shape who they are today? (communities, cities, military, college, travel or lack thereof, prison, etc.)
  • experiences - How did their experiences help shape who they are today? Were they involved in a variety of things or were they shut-ins? Were there any tragedies? What about triumphs?
  • chronology - Figuring out the chronology of major life events is sometimes an easier way to start figuring out a character's past.

These are all things that tie into who we are today, so it stands to reason that they might help you understand your character better. The whole idea behind knowing your character well is so that information can translate to the page. Characters we don't know well end up being stale or stereotypical.

Exercise 3: Character BackstoryEdit

Take the information in the historical trivia from the last exercise. Using this information, along with the material you came up with for Character Exercise 2b., flesh out your character's backstory. Then answer the following questions:

  • How does this all contribute to the character's personality?
  • Does any of this information merit being in the story?

Try to consider the following:

  • childhood - How was the character's upbringing? What were the parents like?
  • relationships - How did their other relationships help shape who they are today? (friends, other family members, teachers, church members, neighbors, bosses, coworkers, boyfriends/girlfriends, other mentors)
  • environment - How did their environments help shape who they are today? (communities, cities, military, college, travel or lack thereof, prison, etc.)
  • experiences - How did their experiences help shape who they are today? Were they involved in a variety of things or were they shut-ins? Were there any tragedies? What about triumphs?
  • chronology - Figuring out the chronology of major life events is sometimes an easier way to start figuring out a character's past.

Exercise 4: Favorite Character BackstoryEdit

Do the same as the previous exercise for your favorite character.

AppearanceEdit

Tall, Dark, and Handsome?

You probably already have an idea of what your character looks like. Maybe that was the first thing you thought of. So why are we leaving it to the end?

Because we like to work big to little.

In the grand scheme of things, it really doesn't matter where you figure this stuff out, as long as you figure it out. We do things with the P3 way because then we don't miss the actual important stuff, which is usually why a character ends up falling flat. So do we even need to think about appearance? Can we skip it?

I'm more of a fan of less description when it comes to appearance, setting, anything really. But ultimately you can do what you want. There are plenty of ways to tackle this, and the important thing is to remember the reader. Here are some things to consider for appearance:

  • Is it relevant or am I just dumping (infodump) all this information onto the reader?
  • Does it flow naturally with the narration or is it interrupting the actual story?
  • Am I making the character look how I wish I looked?
  • How can I describe this character in fewer words?
  • Are you using specific words to describe this character, but aren't using that language on other characters? Why?

You have to remember that you are already interested in this character. It is your baby. But a reader might not be interested in the character yet. So describing every aspect of their appearance is going to drag down the pacing of the story. Placement of the description might also interfere with the flow of the story.

You might not even need to mention any of this at all. Think about that. If you're writing from a first person perspective, why would the narrator ever need to describe what they looked like? It would seem conceited, unless it had something to do with the actual story. Don't just thrust these things onto the reader. It will be tempting, because your characters is awesome, and you can't wait to share your creations.

Resist the temptation.

One of the worst techniques is to have the character sitting at a mirror and you describe what they see. Why? Who cares? Writers tend to elevate the importance of things to the reader's detriment. So limit yourself to a few key pieces of information, the really important stuff, or the features that stand out. If you had only one sentence to describe your character's appearance, how would you do it? Imagine your friend is picking your mom up from the airport. How do you describe what she looks like so he knows who to look for?

The point is to try to tease out these details organically, to trickle or hint at things, rather than regurgitating it out all at once for no reason (hey, just like the trivia we've been talking about). Even better is to do it through the other characters without actually coming out and using exposition. Here is a great example from Glen C. Strathy's article Describing a Character's Appearance:

"For instance, there's a scene in one of Kelly Armstrong's YA books where a teenage boy gives a sweatshirt to the main character - a teenage girl. She looks at it and, disappointed, points out that it's a boy's sweatshirt. The boy then says that he didn't think it would matter on her. She is mortified, of course.

It's a brilliant way to work in the fact that the girl is flat-chested, because it brings out her insecurity and advances the relationship between the two characters."

Notice how Armstrong uses action and other characters to demonstrate the appearance? Here's another example from one of my own stories, The Facility:

"Don't go swinging that thing around me," she said, provoking laughter from the other girls. "It's a mystery you don't have a better sense of smell."

Tela's face goes red before her hand has a chance to jump up and cover her face.

Instead of coming out and saying one of the girls has a large nose, I let another character deliver the information in a way that is in line with her sardonic personality.

Exercise 5: Character AppearanceEdit

Figure out your character's appearance using the information you just learned.

Exercise 6: Favorite Character AppearanceEdit

Does your favorite character's appearance add to the story? Why or why not?

Exercise 7: Quirks and MannerismsEdit

You've had to wade through a lot of information thus far, so the final two sections of this article won't present any new information. Using what you have learned, write down your character's quirks and mannerisms. This will help make your character even more unique.

Exercise 8: DialogueEdit

Here is where you will start working on your character's dialogue. Do some research on how to write unique character dialogue. Is there anything you can do to make your character stand out without being distracting?

Move on to the final section: Additional Character Resources

Creator's Guide Resources

Ad blocker interference detected!


Wikia is a free-to-use site that makes money from advertising. We have a modified experience for viewers using ad blockers

Wikia is not accessible if you’ve made further modifications. Remove the custom ad blocker rule(s) and the page will load as expected.