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Considering Characters

Considering your characters

When thinking about characters, the tendency for many is to start with an archetype — the strong silent soldier/cowboy,  the remote, buttoned up duke/billionaire businessman, the wild, unpredictable bad boy etc.

Archetypes can be useful as a starting point, but unless you go deeper, there is a risk of your characters being a bit too clichéd for comfort.

You need to twist the cliché, go deeper into your character’s personality and back story, find out his secrets and his deeply buried fears/hopes/vulnerabilities.

Consider this poem, by the Russian poet, Yevtushenko.

People, by Yevgeny Yevtushenko

No people are uninteresting.
Their fate is like the chronicle of planets.

Nothing in them in not particular, 
and planet is dissimilar from planet.

And if a man lived in obscurity
making his friends in that obscurity
obscurity is not uninteresting.

To each his world is private
and in that world one excellent minute.
And in that world one tragic minute

These are private.
In any man who dies there dies with him
his first snow and kiss and fight
it goes with him.
                                                    (Read the rest of the poem here)

At a distance, your characters might fit an archetype, but the closer and deeper you go, the more individual and particular they become. Think of your character’s ‘one excellent minute’, and ‘one tragic minute’,  their ‘first snow, and kiss and fight’ — or your versions of those— the events that contributed to the formation of their character and personality, gave them their hangups and their strengths and their blind spots. 

Consider the ways in which they might be “stuck” in their current life.

Then brainstorm events and challenges in your plot that might cause them—force them!—to change.

And finally, consider this quote from Vicki Hinze: “Find your character’s Achille’s heel — their greatest fear or weakness or vulnerability.  Then stomp on it.”