Tag Archives: characters

Characters: Part 1 – Complex Individuals

It’s been much too long since my last update. Well, I got busy this week and just didn’t have the time for much of anything else, unfortunately. So, starting today, I’m going to post a continuing series on characters, how I write them and why I write them the way I do.

Part 1 – Complex Individuals

I’ve written a lot of different characters. Young characters, old characters, male and female. With every single one of them I’ve always tried to make them feel as much like real people as possible. Give them backstories, give them lives, give them goals, and give them struggles. That’s what makes a character interesting. However, there’s a tendency, especially among less experienced writers, to simply write characters who are really “cool” and strong and who dispatch every problem with ease. I had that same problem for a while, but I learned quickly that characters of that nature are simply boring.

A character who can do anything and never has any problems isn’t interesting. More than a story filled with dragons and magic, stories like that are fantasy. Readers want to see a character struggle, to wonder how they going to make it through this terrible trial, and cheer as they push their way through to the goal. Would you be interested in watching a sports movie about a quarterback who never missed a pass, never got sacked, and won ten Superbowls in a row because that’s just how great he was? Of course not, because there’s simply nothing there. But a story about a young quarterback who must overcome personal and on-the-field struggles to finally win the Superbowl for a team that’s been in the dump for years, that’s something people would be interested in. It’s interesting because the outcome isn’t guaranteed.

Another problem that can arise is when you are simply introducing characters to move the plot forward. They don’t have their own lives or personalities, they just exist to do something or say something that the main characters must respond to. Through this, the plot is moved forward. Now, it’s not always a bad idea to use the introduction of a new character to move the plot forward, but does this character exist beyond that brief appearance? The character needs to make sense within the context of the situation, the reader needs to get the feeling that this characters exists within this world and something in their life and their personality has brought them to this point where they interact with the main character. Throwing out something random just won’t do.

Think about the character and what has brought them to this point. Just because they haven’t appeared before and may only appear sparingly from then on, they are still every bit a real person as the main character, we [the reader] simply aren’t allowed a peak into the inner workings of their life. Why did they do that? Why did they sat that? Ask those questions when a character appears. Even though they may not seem important, minor characters aren’t just props that can be thrown out there as needed. Give them some life, let them breathe, and your world will be that much richer and interesting for it.

 

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The Roles of the Hero and the Villain

The hero is the good guy and the villain is the bad guy, everyone knows this little bit of standard fiction theory. But then we get into anti-heroes and sympathetic villains and the roles that those two fit into begin to blur. What if the hero is a total jerk? What if the villain is simply misguided? These are the kinds of questions that break the characters out of their preset molds and tear away the preconceptions inherent in the roles they fill.

These roles have always fascinated me, the idea that the hero is not wholly good and the villain is not wholly evil. Many times in fiction, the two fit their roles quite well. I’m not against that sort of thing, as those roles do serve a purpose and adhering to them can still lead to interesting entertainment, but it’s also true that breaking out of the roles can lead to something even more interesting.

I’ve played with this idea since way back in the days of the Martin Empire Trilogy, setting up a villain who appeared as a mustache-twirling bad guy who just simply loved being evil for evil’s sake. But as the plot went along it was revealed that the villain’s intentions were actually more pure, despite the fact that his methods produced violence and chaos. In his mind he believed he was doing good. Whether he is or isn’t may ultimately fall to the reader to decide. It is in this way that the work becomes more challenging. It forces the reader to consider the actions of the character and the outcomes of those actions and wonder whether it’s worth all the downsides if the ultimate outcome is a good one. Kill one to save two. A hard thing to accept, without a doubt.

I’ve also played with the idea of heroes who are not actually heroes in the traditional sense. While far from anti-heroes, I like the idea of a character who is just a regular person, no one special and with no special skills, who must someone navigate through a dangerous situation and come away victorious. After all, skills and ranks do not make a hero, only what a person does is what makes them a hero or not.

“No heroes on villains, only men.”

It would be safe to say that this is a motto I return to rather often, though certainly not exclusively. Doing my own writing has allowed me to explore these two roles, digging deeply into what makes them work and how readers might respond to them. It’s been an interesting exercise on my part, that’s for sure, but I feel like there’s still a great deal more for me to learn.

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And Yet I Keep Coming Back: The Martian Empire Trilogy [Part 3]

Alright, so I’ve got my characters under control and I’ve flogged them a bit. As the story goes along, they slowly become less like the characters from a book and more like people. People have flaws, people have unfulfilled desires, people often do things that they know will hurt themselves. People aren’t perfect. Lesson learned. But what now? Now I have to learn the next lesson and that lesson is the answer to a question: Why are my characters important? They’ve got an entire book devoted to them, so they must have done something that matters. Are my characters just goofing around doing nothing worth thinking about or are they the central figures in an intergalactic war? I had to find the aspect of the story that made my characters worthy of being the main characters of their own story. Perhaps it’s a story about personal growth, with no far-reaching implications. Perhaps it’s a story about how two kids from Earth end a war that’s put the entire galaxy at risk. Why is anyone reading their story?

At last I find the answer to that question. My characters are important because they do something important. They get sucked into a brewing war and must somehow come through all these trials alive. So, not only did I learn that my characters needed a few flaws and a few trials along the way, they also needed to do something worth taking note of. Now my characters have personality, now my characters have purpose. The story I’m writing expands beyond a simple adventure and becomes something more. The original idea was for a book that might have been, at most, 30k words. About 120 pages. The first book in the series clocked in at 75k words.

Suddenly I had something real in my hands, not just a little piece of fluff that I could pat myself on the back for having written, but an actual novel with a story, twists and turns along the way, that was building towards something even bigger. It was in that moment that my limitations began to fall away and my horizons expanded. It didn’t just have to be for me, it didn’t just have to be a pastime to fiddle with when there wasn’t anything else to do. I was working on my future.

But there was still one more lesson to learn and it was going to be the toughest so far.

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Finding Inspiration

Any writer will tell you the same thing: writing’s all about stealing from other writers. Not to say that you should plagiarize other people’s works, but all your ideas, characters, settings, themes, writing styles, and so on probably came to you from something you read or saw or heard somewhere. That’s where the importance of always reading and absorbing information comes into play, as that feeds directly into your own writing. You may think you’re being clever and original, but most likely somebody already did the same thing before. But that’s okay! Writing is all about taking those things that have been done before and mixing them together and writing with enough skill that your readers are still entertained. That’s the trick, it all comes down to how well you mix and how well you write.

For me, inspiration comes in all forms. I’ve written an entire novel based around a minor plotline of an episode of a TV series. I saw something that interested me and I decided that I wanted to expand that little nugget into an entire self-contained story. And that’s exactly what I did. Another time, I watched some British TV mysteries and decided to write my own British-style mystery. The result was Murder at the End of the World and it was one of the more enjoyable stories I’ve written. It’s best to keep a log of some kind for all these ideas that come to you. Sometimes it may just be a short little story summary/setup or maybe it’s a genre or could it even be the name for a story. I have an entire folder on my computer that’s just for random book titles that don’t even have stories or characters. Words came together in my mind and I liked the way they sounded, so I kept them for use later.

So don’t be afraid to borrow a theme, a character type, a writing style, a setting, a phrase, or an idea. That’s what inspiration is all about.

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Filed under Murder at the End of the World, Reading, Writing