Sunday, April 20, 2008

Writing craft

Character checklists are one of those things I can’t resist. When I run across one I always at least skim it. A lot of times the list includes eye color, favorite foods, and other trivia. Of course, it is important to get these details right. It’s disconcerting to the reader if the heroine’s eyes change color during the story. But physical descriptives are just the surface of character. More important for me to understand, is what kind of people these characters are. Strangely, until now I’ve never compiled a character list of my own.

Evanne’s Character Checklist

!) Do they have something of mine?

Every character gets something from me. A prejudice, a habit, a pet peeve, a character trait, a talent, a dream, an eccentric quirk, or a possession. To write them, I need to be interested in them and this deliberate act of transference helps the bonding process.

2) What defines them?

People are products of their environment and their genetic components, characters too. So what single event was the most crucial in making them who they are today?

3) What do they want?

Goals, goals, and more goals--who is a character without needs and ambitions?

4) Why do they want it?

Motivation, the key which unlocks the mystery of character behavior. The stronger the better for my taste, time pressure helps too.

5) Why can’t they have it?

Conflict, the core element of every good story. Inner conflict arises from character, which is why it’s so important to understand who they are first. Outer conflict hones and reveals character. There’s nothing like pressure to bring out the real character.

6) What does no one know about them?

Adding back a little mystery is good, layers are better, and complications are great.

7) What do they fear?

There’s no better road to character growth than conquering inner demons.

8) Does their name fit them?

I’ve driven myself nuts with re-naming--this demands thought up front.

9) Are they heroic enough? Sympathetic enough?

Tragic is fine. Tortured is good. Brooding is okay. But underneath all that there must be the heart of only slightly tarnished gold. Story stars must be bigger and better than real life folks. Noble, honorable, flawed but the hero and heroine still need to be sympathetic. Actually, I want my villain to evoke some empathy--even if it’s nothing more than a shuddered thought--there for the grace of god…

10) What are their flaws?

If those characters are going to resonate--they need imperfections as much as they need positive qualities--maybe more.

11) What makes them unique?

Memorable characters are special, different, individual. The writer showcases the lead characters with the story so those character need to be worthy of the effort.

12) How do they feel?

The character’s emotional response to story situations is the universal factor that pulls the reader into the story and keeps them glued to the page long after they should have turned off the lights and go to sleep. How the character reacts to events--mad, glad, bad, or sad is a start--but there’s more work, how do they express their feelings or hide them? And if they’re hiding them, what reveals the truth to the reader, to the other characters--eventually. This is the stuff you want to show, save telling for the weather and the scenery. Show emotion.

There you have my quirky list. Your character creation is as unique as you are. Ideas come from many sources. My hope is that something on this list triggers new insights into your own writing process.


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