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CHARACTERS AND WHAT MAKES THEM TICK

Greetings and Salutations loyal readers of the blog.

 

If a story is a series of events held together by a common theme, it is the characters that carry that theme/plot on their shoulders.  Their ability to do that is directly related to how they respond in a given situation.  Let’s assume for now that we have characters suited to do the heavy lifting in your story.  What is it about them that makes us care whether they are carrying the plot line or not.  The what accelerates your story from 0 to 60 in seconds.  It is the what, that makes them interesting enough to spend time with.  The what is hard to define, but there are tools to help a writer get to know his character.  Character outlines, personality profiles, enneagrams, physical descriptions, even their past.  The writer must know these things in order to create characters to populate the story  It’s these details that make a character interesting.

Pardon me a moment while I get up on my soap box.  Okay can everyone hear me?  Good because this is important.  Just because the writer has to know all these things about the characters, it does not mean you have to burden the reader with them.  Not only does your reader not have to know every detail about your characters, he doesn’t want to know all that crap.  What your reader needs, what he must have is a connection with your character, a reason to root for or against him.  When you create a character sketch, you create for you.  Okay, I’m done.

Readers want characters they can identify with, that doesn’t mean realistic characters.  It means characters with ethics and flaws and goals and defects.  Especially your antagonist, evil for evil’s sake is not enough.  Your antagonist must be motivated for what he perceives as the greater good.  No matter how many innocents get hurt.  No matter how upside down his thinking, he has to believe it.  In order to have a good guy, you must have a bad guy.  The more twisted the nemesis is the better your hero will have to be.  My first attempt at a novel had what I still think of as interesting and fun protagonists, but the antagonist was another story.  I didn’t know back then that he has as important a job as the hero.  I personally do not outline plot points.  I do however create detailed character sketches

Now that you have an interesting character you must give your character a unique voice.  He/she shouldn’t sound like anyone else.  In life if you have three teenagers who are best friends talking together, chances are they will sound very much like each other.  This applies to three construction workers, three teachers or God forbid, three writers.  In life we tend to say and do what’s expected, (especially if someone is watching.)  This doesn’t work well in a story.  Your characters should be heard through their speech. Three electricians for instance, will use the same phrases and tech shorthand.  The writers job is to distinguish each one.  Dialogue tags are superfluous window dressing, if your characters have distinct voices.  Give your characters a chance to be heard, give them a voice of their own.

And last, let’s take a line from Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet   “This above all: to thine own self be true,  And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.”

Polonius gives this advice to his son.  And I reiterate here.  Once you have defined your characters, they must stay true to themselves.

All of these things are first and foremost my opinion, paraphrasing Rick from Casablanca.(played by the inimitable, Humphrey Bogart)  My opinion doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.  It is easier to talk about this stuff then it is to implement.  But that again, is the job at hand.  The grindstone we choose to keep our noses to.  That my friends is what writers do.  They Write.

I’ll leave you with a poem by Charles Bukowski titled   “what can I do”.

what can I do

it’s true:

pain and suffering

helps to create

what we call

art.

given the choice

I’d never choose

this damned

pain

and suffering

for myself

but somehow it finds

me

as the royalties

continue to

roll on

in.

Write On,

Eerie Dwarf

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