Friday, August 23, 2013

Wrangling your character into story worthiness

(Previous post: Characters with stories to tell.)

Whether you have a character or want one the best thing is down below the outhouse: Holly Lisle's Create a Character Clinic.

The only advantage I can offer is sympathy and understanding if you have people camping in your head demanding you write about them. ;-) If the exercise in this post helps, cool! If not, the Clinic will still be waiting for you. (BTW, if you need a character, there are links to posts at the bottom that might be helpful.)

What you want to know is: Does your character have what it takes to be the focus of a story?

So what does he have a "desperate, yearning, aching desire to have, to do, to be or to avoid"? If you have an idea, you're half way there!

The best thing you can do for your character: Holly Lisle's Create A Character Clinic: A Step-By Step Course in Creating Deeper, Better Fictional People.

It's sound practical advice and exercises to get your characters more story worthy. She gets you asking the Why questions that dig beneath who your character is to find "one human being's desperate, yearning, aching desire to have, to do, to be or to avoid something," and then build a more complete-feeling person from there. It's available for the Kindle and Kindle apps.
If you don't know, that's why he's not getting anywhere. Perhaps his life is bearable. It may be happy or dull but he could continue as he is. If he wants something, he's not sure what it is.

Some people are like that. They spend years waiting for their heart's desire to reveal itself. For some it never happens. Presumably you don't want to spend your whole life waiting for your character to find meaning!

So speed up the process. Dig to find out why he is as he is.

Make a list. Write down what you know about your character. If you know a lot, limit yourself to what feels most central to who he is. If you don't know much, that's okay.

Got your list? For each item ask why. Why did he choose this rather than something else? Was it a free choice or did he feel pressure?

For each, browse Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs for writers. What level was this choice in response to? What did he want to have? What did he fear to lose? Why was that important to him?

For characteristics that weren't his choice, ask why that felt right for him. Why does he feel like a middle child rather than oldest or youngest or an only? Why does he feel like an introvert rather than an extrovert? How did that affect who he is? If he'd been something else, how would his life be different? Why?

As you're digging, you're searching for what's important to him, what he'll fight to keep, to get back, to have. Look at needs lower on Maslow's Hierarchy. What can you take away or threaten? Find what would make his life unbearable enough to push him to take action. You're also looking for what else he values. If you took that away would he still pursue his desire? Why or why not? Is there some part of his life that makes the desire meaningful? How much can you strip from his life before you reach what he'd risk his life to keep?

You won't need to know everything. It's better that you don't! He should remain flexible to adapt to changes the story needs. He should retain surprises so he's fun to write.
"The compelling need is the desire that gets your character out of bed in the morning, that pulls him through the day, that makes him take risks, or that drives him to challenge others." Holly Lisle.
When you're done you should have some idea of who your character is and why. Next, play around with Strong flaws and flawed strengths to help him be imperfect.

If you don't have a character, this is an exercise we did at a pre-NaNoWriMo meeting to create a character from scratch:

A character's random beginning

Also Cattell's 16 Personality Factors lets you randomly generate 16 different aspects of personality.

I'm sure there are creative and great things out on the internet. I search periodically but can't recall stumbling across anything that made me jump up. But these were handy and might be useful:

Fear and loathing
Why are you? (At the bottom is also a link to Creating Characters from Scratch)
Conflicted
Create a Character (With several links to Typing Chimp articles on character creation.)
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