Monday, July 11, 2011

On the Writing Process - Creating Great Characters

The second installment of musings on writing relates to creating great characters. If you've ever seen a movie or a TV show or read a novel or short story that captivates you, chances are that the writers developed great characters to tell the story. Great characters are well-rounded, and detailed enough for the reader (or viewer) to believe. That means they are three-dimensional. 

If you are writing a script, a novel, a short story or other piece, and you give ample thought to your characters, you are bound to win more fans! 

Here are some things you should consider when creating a character:

The character must be consistent (unless the character is mentally disturbed, the traits and actions of the character should remain consistent with their values and the way the writer has presented the character from the beginning of the story).

The character must be believable. Even if you are writing fantasy or science fiction, a good character must be believable in action, deed, thought and relationships, or you will lose credibility AND lose the attention of your viewer or reader.

The writer must create a history and relationships for the character, even if all meaningful relationships with family, friends, husbands, colleagues or lovers are not related directly to the story. With some idea of who this person is and the people in their life, the reader or viewer will understand the character as a whole human being. 

The writer should know how she or he sees the character (age, weight, height, description, gait, mannerisms, job, education). While the writer does not need to tell the reader or viewer everything he or she thinks about the character's physical presence or every fact about the person's lifestyle, exercise regimen or eating habits, it will be easier to write about the character if the writer can picture the character in his head and have a fully formed picture of how the character lives his or life life.

The character might have a particular style of speaking (an accent, a casual or formal sentence structure). That should remain consistent throughout the story, unless the character is a spy or someone who is changing identities!

The character should have a "back story". Even if the writer does not reveal every detail of the character's history, it helps the writing if the writer understands the history and experiences. That will explain the reasons for the character's actions and reactions to situations in the story. If an action or reaction is particularly odd, the writer must reveal the impetus or motivation in order for the reader to understand what is happening. 

There are certainly other factors to creating a character but I won't go into every one of them here. The last one I will talk about is the most important. The character MUST have some redeeming quality, value or reason for existence and/or for the actions they take. If a character is unnecessary to the story, or if the writer does not value the character in some way (even if the character isn't very nice), the reader or viewer certainly will not see the value or purpose of the character's role in the story. 

When a writer chooses to reveal a character's thought process, it should be to provide clarification or critical information to the reader or viewer. Remember that you don't have to write about every thought in a character's head but DO write about reactions so that the reader or viewer can see how one character is reacting to another's action or statement. In TV and movies and on the stage, the viewer has the luxury of seeing an actor emote and so can understand their reaction to what is going on. In books, the reader must rely on the author to explain what is happening so she can see the events unfold in her imagination!

Remember that the viewer or reader cannot read your mind and needs to have a certain amount of information in order to make sense of what the characters are doing and why they are acting they way they are acting. BUT...don't go into so much detail that you lose the reader or viewer in exposition and explanation. 

In the next blog entry about the writing process, I will talk about writing at a particular time of day. Since many of the topics we will discuss relate to other topics, you'll find that I might talk about a technique, about characters or about other topics more than once during these blog posts. When taken as a group of posts and a body of thought, I hope these blog posts will give you  more complete picture of the process, and how you might approach writing your own novel, short story, script or other content. 

No comments:

Post a Comment