I'm in an online group (I'm in a LOT of online groups!) and there is currently a guest "instructor" who is giving us exercises in character building. It's been great fun. Once he just gave us a line..."Gary hated weddings" and we had to run with it using details to show Gary hating weddings as opposed to coming right out and saying it. Another time we had to develop a character in a couple of paragraphs starting with the line "Amy stared out at the sea of faces." This last one was great...create a character you hate...but show them having one redeeming feature.
The last exercise got me thinking. I had no trouble creating the character. She came alive on the page and in my mind in an instant. But she's not a "normal" character. She's obnoxious, opinionated, unkind, etc. Easy to bring her to life. What's hard is bringing a "normal" character to life without descending into quirkiness. My current protag for instance is a 30-something woman. I don't want to define her as someone who "doesn't eat he green M&Ms" or who "sings karaoke" once a week. But it's hard to get "normal" but "real" across on the page.
Here is my nasty old lady:
"We're good Christians you know," The woman reluctantly opened the screen door a little wider and let the police detective in.
"But when the boy came to the door, asking for help…?" The detective raised her hands questioningly as she looked around.
"Might as well have a seat." The woman pointed toward a stiff looking armchair that took up a large amount of space in the tiny room. Her lips thinned, and she raised her chin slightly as she took her own seat, a comfortably worn chaise with a knitting bag within easy reach. "The Bible tells us to shun that kind of lifestyle."
"But surely that doesn't mean you can't help…"
"He made his choice. Time these people learned they can't go bending the good word of the Lord to suit themselves." The woman's mouth snapped shut like a rubber band.
"But he was bleeding," the detective leaned forward in her seat. "Surely Christ preached compassion for our fellow man." She held her hands out in supplication.
The woman shook her head.
The sound of claws echoed on the polished wooden floor and a tiny, white terrier jumped into the woman's lap. Her face softened, and she stroked its nappy fur. "This is our Baby. Found him at the pound. Poor thing had been nearly starved to death. Who could do something like that to one of God's creatures?" She buried her face in the dog's worn fur.