Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Want to Develop Some Character?

A lot of us writers, when faced with a new story, or a sagging middle think I know, I'll enter a new character.  I'll give him a tatoo or a scar, or a lisp.  Or I'll have her twist her hair, purse her lips like a blow-fish or dress in dominatrix garb. Oh, Oh, I know, it'll be some short phrase the character utters at moments of extreme tension that is always the same!

Well, actually, all that is what character is not. Oh, you can give your character any of those traits and more, that's not the problem.  If that's ALL you give them, that IS the problem.

Let's consider here.  What is character really?  Think about yourself. The character you create for a book is basically the same as you. It's what's inside. What you're like when there's nobody around. "Character" isn't what happens when life is all sunshine, lollipops and rainbows, it's more about what happens when things go wrong, when life throws unexpected bombs our way. So the same thing applies to your characters in your story.

How would your character react when confronted with real temptation, money, sex, whatever?  How would he or she deal with hardship? When challenged or attacked or hunted, how would that character move forward? What is your character willing to do to get what he or she wants? Those are elements of character and your fictional people need to possess them as much as do you.

Depend on your own experiences in life. Everyone has had moments of challenge.  Everyone has had times of temptation, managed to resist, or fell victim to it.  As a result we've felt bad or we've felt good about ourselves. The characters you create should have those moments as well. Present them with moments when that character may have been strong or weak, stalwartly honest or somewhat sleezy. A time when he or she did the right thing in spite of risk, cost or pain or did the wrong thing and felt regret or rejoiced in it.

And remember, it's not just the good guys who have these moments, these feelings, you need to give them to your bad guys as well. Obviously your bad guys have made more of the wrong choices and that's what makes up their character. The 'bad' guy pretty much acts more out of self interest than the 'good' guys.

So how do you get inside your characters' heads and dig deep to find out what their 'character' is all about?

One great way is to ask your character a lot of questions.  What does he need?  The basics, food, water, rest, safety from pain and more.  Think about it.  Work your way through and higher.  Once basics are met what else does he need/want? You might check out Maslow's Hierarchy of Need  for some ideas on how us humans operate and what we all need.  Beginning from the bottom up it's an interesting angle when working with character.

And keep it firmly in mind - if you want to create fleshed-out characters for your story, don't make any of them perfect.  Perfect can be terribly boring.


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