Characters Come Alive

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Now that you’ve sparked your story it’s time to catch fire.  That’s right, it’s time to create characters and bring them to life.

Most literary writers say that you must begin with character, character, character, because all stories revolve around compelling characters, so if you want to write great fiction start with great characters.

But what does that even mean?

Let’s say I’m writing about a lawyer with green eyes and curly hair who is in love with an exotic dancer.

Is that interesting? Do you identify with him?

Maybe, maybe not.

I believe that we identify with a character’s struggles, more than just the character. Think about it, in life we don’t just walk out onto the street and identify with every human just because they’re human. Thus in fiction we don’t identify with every character just because he’s a character.

In a sense we identify with each other through bad luck.

Why?

Because it’s transformative. When we run into problems, we have to struggle out of them. We change and grow. That’s what makes experience golden.

If you didn’t identify with my lawyer, can you identify with the vulnerability and excitement of falling in love?

That’s more likely.

We connect with the story through the vulnerability and excitement, the problem and desire. Ironically the more specific the details, the more I identify with this lawyer and his exotic dancer.

Let’s say my lawyer, Lorenzo, watches his exotic dancer at a bar, back in the shadows, because he doesn’t want her to know he’s there. One day he sees a drunk, Dietrich, grab her between the legs and she’s not strong enough to push him away. Lorenzo then waits for Dietrich outside the door to the parking lot gripping the spiked neck of a broken whiskey bottle.

Have I ever been in that situation?

No.

Can I identify with Lorenzo?

Sure, because I’ve watched somebody I love get hurt (problem) and have wanted to defend them (desire).

In an earlier blog I scribbled around with the problem and desire, so at this point it’s time stick in the electrodes and charge up those characters.

If you try to do this in your head it can get confusing and mushy, that’s why I recommend playing with circles and arrows. There’s even a Character Worksheet.

I’ll use Lorenzo, Dietrich and Sabine (the stripper) as an example.

First the circles. What does each character want?

circlesThen the arrows. How do these desires create problems between characters?

arrows

You can continue at will, drawing arrows and brainstorming complications between characters, based on their desires.

Sketching your ideas out in a graphic way helps you shake off writer’s block by getting clear about what you’re writing. If you ever get exhausted, take the hint and play around with ideas like this. Hopefully the relationships will begin to take shape, and actual scenes will bubble into your mind.

Don’t forget, as you’re creating all these problems and unfulfilled desires, you’re putting drops of real humanity in fictional humans. That’s what makes them come alive.

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