Yesterday was our third and final prep workshop for November. Joe Turpin (aka Corrupted Flame) was the host for this session, which focused on Character Development. Many thanks to Joe for a great session! My notes for this session are a bit sketchy because I was the only ML in attendance and had to break away from time to time to help those who came in late). We had 33 people in attendance but I unfortunately forgot my camera 🙁
- Limitations will humanize the character, give them something to overcome
- Character arc keeps tension high, gives internal conflict to balance against external conflict
In creating the character, give them a place and what leads them to the point where the story begins. Creating your characters can change your plot. Make the involvement in the story more meaningful (e.g., xenobiologist goes to a human colony on different planet. Biologist determines that the creatures are sentient; but the team leader is thinking to wipe them out. In finding why she is there in the first place: perhaps she had a younger sister she was jealous of. To add conflict: make the team leader her sister (she thinks her sister won’t listen to her, so her only recurse is to sabotage the project).
Main character: the most important to the story: decisions shape what happens. In some cases, the main character can be a villain. E.g., Star Wars IV and V: the story is about Luke; but in VI the story is about Darth Vader (everyone reacts to the decisions he make)
Hero (moral compass, person we are rooting for)
MC needs motivation to act.
Book ref: Writer’s Guide to Character Traits, by Dr. Linda Edelstein
- Anger is a powerful motivator. People who feel the most pain/anger are the ones who want things to change. Make sure the character has the freedom to act.
- E.g., in Fantasy, kings and queens are chosen as main characters; but ensure they have the freedom to act (e.g., Aragorn at the start of the trilogy).
- Don’t pick someone who doesn’t have the power/freedom.
- Character-driven stories: require more work up front.
Viewpoint character: focus on which character (important to the reader, we get to know the most about them by the way they see things). How they see the situation will color the reader’s perception of the story.
When your MC != viewpoint character: detective stories (detective knows before the end who it was that did it; but the side kick won’t know the information. E.g., Sherlock Holmes is the MC and Watson is the viewpoint character)
Characteristics of viewpoint characters
- Character must be present at all main events
- VC must be actively involved
- Good to have the VC have a stake in these events (so the emotion can be conveyed to the reader)
Book ref: The Plot Thickens: 8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life, by Noah Lukeman
Frequency of appearance of characters (people remember the beginnings and endings rather than the middle). If character appears infrequently but is there for long stretches of time, might not be as memorable as if they appear in short bursts. E.g., stalker character a little bit at a time seems more ominous
Entrances and Exits:
In Psycho, the shower scene: the protagonist is taken out of the story about half-way through. This fact makes this scene more impactful because of the surprise to the viewer.
In Silence of the Lambs, the antagonist isn’t revealed until the very end.
Writing exercise: write a character doing a day-to-day process (e.g., cleaning or washing dishes) while in the grip of an intense emotion. Don’t state the emotion in the prose but let the actions of the character reveal the emotion.
Creating conflict within the characters: personal beliefs, etc. rather than having them be on opposite sides by circumstance. Having gladiator-styled artificial conflict doesn’t bring interest to the conflict (readers won’t be as invested).
Force people to be together in certain situations.
E.g., one act play with one scene: characters are in hell–they have opposing personalities.
Give characters conflicting objectives (e.g., Empire wants to conquer the universe; rebels don’t want that)
Time is a good source of conflict (limited timeframe; ex. 24)
Family makes the conflict more personal to the characters if they have to deal with conflicting personalities within their family.
Romance is another type of conflict. A character might think they are not good enough to win the object of their affections.
- Q: Write out the character’s descriptions first?
- A: Common to look up character worksheets online (personality, appearance). Usually include physical appearance in prose.
Can be helpful to clip out pictures of the character.
Some very good podcasts (see http://writingexcuses.com; will post in the regional forum) will help out a lot (15 minutes each).
Exercise: Write the first word that comes to mind, then write five related words around that; then write ten words around that. (suggestion by AmaranthMuse; note: might be a good thing to do via XMind or Freemind mindmapping programs; for more software references, see this page on our wiki.)
Other tips and pointers
- Another good book ref: Writing for Emotional Impact, Karl Iglesias.
Tells you how to manipulate the emotional responses of your book’s readers. Also see this helpful mindmap I put together as part of this blog article.
- Book ref: Writer’s Digest books — good reference
- Other helpful resources (as documented on our wiki).
- Nanowrimo wordsprints on twitter
- Nanowrimo forums
–Tim (aka NewMexicoKid)