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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

What A Character

When you write, it is important to become your character.  This is not to be confused with pretending to be your character.  It's deeper.  

It's about feeling what she feels, tasting what he tastes--be it regret or sorrow or bitterness--thinking like she thinks, acting like he acts, doing what she does.  Becoming a character is more than guessing, it is knowing; knowing in your gut, in your heart and in your soul.  It's an art.

Well done, it causes audience investment.  Readers will see your character as a real being.  They'll start to feel a bit of what your character experiences.  They'll get nervous when your character crawls into a dark tunnel and hears a rumbling growl.  They'll feel that warm tickle of happiness when the hero grabs his love in the pouring rain and finally kisses her.  They'll cry when a faithful companion takes an arrow to the heart so your character can go on.  Like I said, it’s an art. 

How do you become your character?  It seems easy as an author, right?  I mean you created the character, gave him a desire, an end, and a means to get there.  You colored his expressive eyes and gave him stubble.  You hand-picked idiosyncrasies you noticed on the subway, and you made her someone you would like to meet, or loathe on sight.  You gave him mystery, intrigue and a flaw to die for.  You even put a slice of yourself in there--well, you had to, the character came from your own thoughts--be it your desires, your quirks, or what you hoped to never have to face, you poured a part of yourself into the character that to you so easily breathes and talks and picks up a sword or pen, or leash for her cat.  

It isn’t enough.  What?  Blood, sweat and tears aren't enough?

Well, now that character isn’t you.  No one wants to read a book about ten little yous running around.  Maybe, if you were writing a multiple personalities story where you don’t know the characters are all the same person until the very end.  But I digress.   

You have to separate yourself, then become one with your character.  It's not counter-productive.  You can't let your character fly on his own until you cut the strings.  

Create a past, understand it, derive from it your character’s desires and motives and emotions.  Know where she comes from and how that will make her act in different situations.  Will she flee at the sight of water because she watched her neighbor drown as a girl, but jump into a burning building to save a stranger because someone saved her?  Will she let people tease her about her appearance, but dole out knuckle sandwiches to those that taunt her little brother?  Is she submissive to teachers, unless they resemble her Aunt Ginny?  Why?  The audience will never know every subtle nuance that makes your character unique, but if you do, the reality of who they are will shine through.
I always think it funny when I am writing my novel and there’s my character, painting the story for me and we hit a fork in the road.  I have a mind to go down the left path, but my character doesn't.  It is usually better.   Scratch that, it is ALWAYS better to stay true to your character.  Even if it means veering right and derailing your current train of thought.  Sometimes you just have to jump on that horse and see what the next train has in store.  Then, if you have to get back to the first train--well that's a whole new adventure!

And that is what I mean.  You can’t just write a character and then make him hop through your story like it’s one of those scripted murder mysteries you play at a party when everyone just reads the card.  It’s your new creation being true to the personality you’ve given him.  The story isn't fiction to your character.  It's real.  Your character becomes alive there.

Living and breathing ink.   

Let your character show you how the story ends.  But don’t be afraid to throw some big problems his way--you can't let life get mundane!  After all, the character makes the story, but you still have to write it.  

Happy Writing!

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