Saturday, January 21, 2017

How to "Raise" a Character

Characters don't need quite as much as your real children. For instance, you don't have to take them to the dentist, or rent bouncy houses for their birthdays.

But you do have to give them gifts. You have to endow them with the same kinds of interesting qualities as your kids might display as they grow. Some of these things are probably not qualities you would wish for your own children, but who's to say she won't give up that stoner boyfriend with the bad haircut and no job or driver's license on her own? Or that your son might actually attend a classes at the community college he enrolled in because he didn't want to go away to an Ivy League school and leave his gamer buds behind?

Oh. Wait . . . Never mind.

Anyway, your characters are going to have to have things.

Here's a list of five things your characters should have.

Flat, dull characters don't sell novels. Scarlet O'Hara wasn't flat or dull. She was unique, complex. She had contradictory traits. Characters need to be strong-minded, outspoken, but hiding insecurities. Genteel, but with an iron will.
Bashful, but charming. Characters are people, we have personalities.

Personality is nothing without interests. A character who doesn't read books, jog, collect teapots, study philosophy, love game shows, paint portraits, enjoy scuba diving, or has a passion for something, is not a character I want to hang out with for 300 pages.

Humans are the products of their environments. And their upbringing or past circumstances. A person's history plays a large part in how that person thinks and feels. A child who grows up in a ghetto with abusive parents will probably have a far different outlook than one who has grown up in a blue-collar home with conscientious parents. While it's true that violent or deviant characters can simply be born violent or deviant, background and history will still dictate much of that character's story. Give your characters a history, it will affect their reactions to what happens to them in your story. Their history will reflect in their situations.

Give your characters something to work toward; whether the goal is good or bad, depends on who they are. Obviously, if the character is a bad guy, his goal is to get rid of the good guy. Or vice-versa. A character who is poor can want to reach a goal of having money. Or a would-be lover will work toward capturing the heart of his perfect lady. Give your protagonist something to want. A goal creates motivation.

Nobody would read a book where the pretty protagonist grew up in a happy home, became head cheerleader in freshman year, was voted homecoming queen for four years, attended Harvard and aced every class, got the degree she wanted, sailed around the world, met the man of her dreams, got married, had a child who grew up in a happy home and became a beloved high school quarterback . . . Well, you get it. No setbacks, no failures. No story. There have to be obstacles. Something has to prevent her from being named homecoming queen. He has to overcome something in order for him to become the quarterback instead of that pimply-faced guy nobody likes, who gets sacked every other play, and who made the team simply because he knows where to get the steroids. Throw bricks at your characters. Give her some strange disease that puts her in a wheelchair and make her go through physical therapy in order to walk again. Let him find out that his grandpa is the town heroin dealer. Put him in jail for something he didn't (or did) do. Obstacles.

Remember, characters are like children. They're going to demand things. 

"Every secret of a writer's soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind is written large in his works."
                                                                                                    Virginia Woolfe

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