Friday is For Writers
Creating Real Characters… or the “c” word that shalt never be used
First, a moment of housekeeping. Next week is Readers on the River, so I will not be posting a Writers post. Regularly scheduled programing will recommence the following week, however!
Now, on to the subject at hand. While I was at RWA this summer, I gave a panel (Ask Me Anything… J.R. Ward.) There were a lot of good questions, and among the ones that lingered for me, was one from a writer about creating believable characters. She asked how I did it, specifically in relation to making the Brothers so three dimensional.
It’s a really important issue in manuscripts. Story is great, plotting is necessarily, line by line chops are critical- but if you are truly going to reach your readers, the people inhabiting your world have to be flesh and blood. I think I do a fairly good job at this, but to be honest, as I have no control over my stories, I don’t feel like I’m “creating” characters. They just are people to me.
And that’s where I would start if you’re looking for help with the folks in your stories.
As I told the writer who asked the question, in my household, we do not use the “c” word- and no, not as in C U Next Tuesday, but “character.” To me, the people in my stories are not constructs I have cobbled together. As the scenes come into my head, I see actual people in them, and in this regard, they have good parts and bad parts, sweet sides and aggressive sides, passion and apathy- the whole gamut of characteristics. I just record what they do.
I think if you want to create believable people, don’t think in terms of creating. Think in terms of stepping back and watching them. What do they gravitate toward? How do they express themselves? How does their affect change depending on who they are interacting with? Allowing them to breathe and be people, and show you who and what they are, is the only way it’s ever worked for me- although I freely concede that other people have different M.O.s.
And then after you’ve watched them in their own lives for a while, observe how they move and talk and make decisions within your story. Most writers start out with an idea or a scene and build from there. As you see them in your plotlines, what do they do? How do they treat people? Make choices? Handle stress? I always think of my BDB world as its own community, and as such, like any town, it has a whole host of different personalities in it (hello, Lassiter.) It is the alchemy of these disparate, and at times, conflicting (hello, Lassiter) points of views and motivations that propel the stories forward. The thing is, the more interesting they are to you, the more interesting they should be to your reader. And the more you give them their rein, the more that you will find your story enriched by the unpredictable.
Like I’ve ever had any control over V, for example?
Now, I realize that it’s not like this for everyone. Some people construct their characters consciously and have great success with it, and for those who rock this, I’m curious- how does it work for you? And I’ve also heard there are computer programs out there to help with this? I’m honestly interested in learning the ways other people do it, because in truth, I feel like a lamea&& whenever it comes to inquiries like this. I want to be able to tell folks that there’s a concrete 1-2-3 I use, and I feel like a failure because I don’t know where the hell it all comes from. I also do not want to come across as anything special. What I am certain of, though, is that there are all kinds of ways that things work for people, and the right answer is the one that works for YOU.
Jeez, this is a short post. And see, this is why I suck at stuff like this- but I believe the people are at the core of any story, so it is more than worth discussion.
Just remember, there is magic in the real world. All you have to do is believe, believe, believe.
Sending hugs from the frontlines,