Sunday, January 13, 2013

Building Character(s)

When a writer (this writer, anyway) creates a character, the process begins with some sort of model. It can be oneself, which will bore both reader and writer, or it can be based on another real person, or simply the characteristics the writer has identified in “all of the above.”

Characters attract readers because they are true; you can find the model in someone you know or know about. Readers identify with the people in a story when they can find a connection or a response they would understand. The reverse is true, too: a character has so many or such strong negative parts that the reader is repulsed. If that is what you want, that’s great. If you are trying to make a player in your story one the reader will root for, then you must be aware of what they seem to be. And of course, it is absolutely necessary, I believe, that every central actor in a story have some flaw, some negative that makes him or her less than a god. We don’t (in general) like our heroes to be gods because then everything is too easy, too uncomplicated to make a good story. A god-like human isn’t really human.

Writers are observers first, creators second. The writing process begins with a “what if” sort of thought process. What if the hero is unaware of being a hero? What if the situation the hero finds himself/herself in is too demanding, or strong, or negative? It can only be too strong if the character isn’t up to the task, and can’t find it within to do what is necessary to succeed. And success may be measured in so many ways, like survival or reward or winning the one he loves (or losing the one who is really the cause of the problem in the first place).

You see what I mean, I hope: finding a storyline is only part of the writing task. Finding the people who can carry out the work is the most important part because who they are sets up the way the story works.

To the five “Ws,” writers add the three “Is”: Invent, Interpret, and Improve.

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