Friday, March 7, 2014

Creating Your Characters

Not only am I late, but I was busy with things I'd left unfinished, while racing toward a deadline.  I actually did write Wednesday's blog...late Wednesday night, then forgot to post it.  Earlier today, I worked on a blog post for Bits & Bytes, my writers group's blog.  In fact, while doing that I remembered it's Friday.  Duh!  The topic of our blog this month is "Your book is a movie!  Who’s in your dream cast?", so it was natural of me to think of characters as a topic for today.

Characters and Story

Characters can make or break your story.

Creating characters can be done in two ways:

Create the right characters for your story.
Create the right story for your characters.

One of the biggest mistakes writers make is not to make their characters real.  Or put another way, making our characters unreal.  By that, I mean they aren't believable.  Unbelievable characters may be too perfect, too imperfect, or they may be cardboard characters with no flaws.

Let's face it, we all have flaws.  Therefore, our characters should also have them.  They don't have to be huge, but they do affect the characters and how they live their lives and relate with others.  Those flaws can change by improving the flaws or can also grow more serious.  Whatever happens, character growth--changes in how the character perceives him or herself and others and reacts to those--are vitally important to them and to the story.

Characters often fall into categories known as archetypes.  You aren't sure what archetypes are?  The Complete Writer's Guide to Heroes and Heroines: Sixteen Master Archetypes by Tami D. Cowden, Caro LaFever and Sue Viders might be a good place to start.  If you like getting several different opinions or presentations on archetypes, simple do an online search for *character archetypes,* and there will be enough results to keep you busy for quite a while.  If you're more into suspense or mystery, Tami also wrote Fallen Heroes: Sixteen Master Archetypes of Villains (same link as above).

I don't always think of characters as archetypes, when creating them.  That doesn't mean the characters I write aren't some kind of archetypes.  They'll usually fall into one or two for each character at some time during the process.  After all, we all are archetypes of one kind or another, or we're a mix, just as our characters often are.

The Whys, Whats and Whos

Once you decide on which archetypes your characters fall under, back story takes a front row seat.

  • Ask yourself (or your character) WHY he or she is a Warrior or a Seductress, or any of the other archetypes.  From the moment we're born and until we pass on, we experience millions of things in our lives.  Good or bad, those experiences mold us to become who we are at a point in time.  For characters, that point in time is the beginning of the story.
  • WHAT happened in the character's life that made a difference, good or bad?  Was it loss or gain?  Raised in a big family or an orphan?  Did a death or a birth affect the character in some way?
  • WHO was involved in the above WHAT?  A friend, a parent, a sibling?  Or was it a stranger?
The more we write about a character, the more we learn about him or her.  I've often discovered that even though I think I know my character, I often learn there's something I missed.  If that happens to you, don't worry about it.  A little editing later will not only fix it, but make the character more well-rounded and real.

Keep one thing in mind:  The WHAT doesn't have to be a bad thing.  Good things work just as well.  It all depends on your character.

Back story not only helps answer the WHY, WHAT and WHO, but it can also be the catalyst that will force a change in the character, making that character grow.  Without character growth, without a change, either throughout the story or caused during and after the Black Moment, a story falls flat.  Knowing your character when you sit down to write the story can make a big difference in your writing.  The more you know, the easier your writing will go.

Once you've learn your character's archetype and the WHY, WHAT and WHO, you have a lot of  the information you need to work on the character's GMC (Goal, Motivation & Conflict).  Because GMC is very important to the character's story, we'll take a look at it next week and see how to use archetypes and the 3Ws to work with GMC.

Have a wonderous weekend and get ready to welcome in Spring!
When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature. ~ Ernest Hemingway

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