Where’s the voice over and the colored bars when you need them?
Last week, I wrote about character naming. This week, due to a small technical difficulty, I will be writing about character creation. The technical difficulty that started this thought process was all my own making, of course. You see, my main character and I had a small difference of opinion. She, being who I created her to be, responded to a situation in a vastly different way than I wanted her to, thus the difficulty. I overlooked a major point in her back story, so here I am, in Chapter 6, having a serious problem explaining her behavior without making her seem like an over-reactive nutcase. The sad part is I knew this before completing Chapter 3 but I tried to push through it because I wanted to get the story down. Now I’m kicking myself for not going back to square one before I continued. Before you fall off your couch laughing hysterically at the image of me hopping around like a one-legged man in an ass kicking contest, I’ll move on.
A story usually starts for me as a picture or a scene, a tiny glimpse into the life of one or two people caught at a time of great importance, a life-changing moment from which they will never return the same as before. It is my job, as a writer, to flesh the story out and the turn the people into living, breathing beings. I have to change that picture or scene into a story worthy of the 85,000+ words I will type and someone, hopefully, will want to read.
My first step is to decide what I want to do with the story, where it will start and how it will finish. My next step is to create the characters. They are the ones who will lead me from the beginning to the end and fill the middle with the meat of life. Creating characters is fun, stressful and maddening all at the same time. At least it is for me. It is also a major part of the creation process that cannot be skipped or hurried, lest you end up right where I found myself this week. Stuck with a character that won’t last through the story, much less triumph at the end.
There are many books and websites out there to help with creating characters. The advice and worksheets are great for creating the basic information about your character. From physical characteristics to sociological background, they cover all the bases. You can have all the information you ever needed about your character neatly written and at your fingertips at all times. The best worksheet, however, is the one that suits the way you write and create. Use the other worksheets as examples to create your own. That way, you have everything you need in a format that works for you.
Now you have to fill the worksheet out. Include everything important about that character you could possibly ever use in the story, and then add more. There is a lot of information about my characters that doesn’t make it in the book, per se, but is still helpful when thinking of their motivations. Think of your character like an acquaintance or a friend. You only know a small amount of information about them, possibly enough to form a half-assed opinion of who they are as a person, to put them in a box. This is how stereotypes are made. You may see people from one view and make up your mind about them in an instant, but how much do you really know about them? In the case of the friend, you may know a lot, but you still don’t know everything. I hate to sound cliché, but everyone has layers, just like an onion. As people, we never see them all. As a writer, you have to. Peel through the layers of your character until you get to the very core of what and who they are. Remove the stereotypes. Pull them out of that damp, dark box you’ve stuffed them in and sift through their memories like a mind-reading Peeping Tom until you know everything about them. Then you’re ready to add them to the story and let them have free reign of the world you created for them.
Sound advice, right? Let’s hope I can follow it this time instead of trying to take the shortcut.
Once again, nothing can replace your own creativity, but sometimes a little help is a great way to get you on the right path. Listed below are a few books and links I have found helpful in the creation process.
How to Write a Damn Good Novel by James N. Frey
The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing by Evan Marshall
Talk about peeling layers, that last one is six pages long. I’ll never answer all the questions, but it sure gets you thinking about who your character really is.