Friday, September 9, 2011

Knowing your Characters

Sorry for the delay, folks. Been out sick. O.k., so I didn't look like the zombie apocalypse had started, but I sure felt like it!

We left off on the writing front discussing character names. Now we get to start writing! Remember those lists we created during our pre-writing phase? (Or brain storming bubbles, mind mapping, or whatever path works best for you!) The ideas about our character that we jotted down? Pull those out and start writing about your character. (Mind you, this is just about the character, not writing the story yet!). Write a life history, give details about his/her childhood. Create stories that explain why your character is the way he or she is and what past experiences guide his/her choices. Details matter!

Is your character a crotchety, old detective who drinks too much? Why is he that way? What happened in his life prior to the story starting that set his attitudes in place? The more details you can provide, the more real this character will become for you. The more real the character is to you, the more real he or she will be for your audience.

What does your character look like? If you are artistically inclined, draw out your character. I am woefully incapable when it comes to artwork. I often rely on actors, but I pick the actor I could see playing my character and get a picture of that actor to go with my bio of the character. Any unique qualities of the actor, I incorporate into my character and create back stories for how it happened.

I had a short story where my main character looked like Joaquin Phoenix. My character was a troubled youth with a penchant for mischief. I had a back story for that lovely scar on Joaquin's lip. My character was a thief and this behavior started early in life. He got the scar when, as a very young boy, he used a fishing line to pick the purses of ladies at market. One day the hook got snared and when he jerked it free to escape, the hook became embedded in his upper lip. In the scuffle to free himself as the townspeople pursued him, the line was snatched and the hook tore right through his lip.

I did mention this back story in my actual short story, but did not go into as much detail as it was a short story and not the main point of the plot. But it added to character development. Even if the story was not important to the details of the short I had written, knowing about that harrowing experience allowed me to have a depth of understanding for my character that I would not have otherwise had if I had not taken the time to create this back story. I could write a whole series on my mischievous youth! And I still might!

The more important the character, the more detail you need to go into when writing this bio. But you should do a bio for each character in your story. The more information you provide on even your static characters, the more real they will become. Some of the material will indeed make it into your story, but a lot of it will only be kept in your notes. That is okay. You never know if the story may turn into a series and that material will be useful in a later book one day.

You may feel that it is possible to skip this step. That you have it all in your head and that is enough. That is your choice. But I assure you that authors such as J.K Rowling didn't just wing it when writing Harry Potter. She knew every one of those characters inside and out before she ever started writing the story. Even though characters developed, they still remained true to themselves. Which is part of why the series was such a raging success. We didn't know in book one why Malfoy was such a twidget, we just knew that he was obnoxious and we didn't like him. But as you learn more about Malfoy through the series, it is possible to see how he turned out the way that he did and (at least in my case) pity him.

Take the time to plan. Add to your character bios as you write the story. Keep them living and breathing!

No comments:

Post a Comment