When I write magazine articles, one of the first things I do is jot down a list of key topic points I want to include. So, when I decided to write my first novel, it seemed obvious to use the same formula throughout the initial plotting stages. I already had an idea for the story, knew which characters I needed and had a rough plan how I wanted it to end. From there I bullet pointed each scene and then each action within that scene. Voila! Easy peasey. I now had a template to use when writing my story.
So why didn’t it occur to me to do the same thing with my characters? Characters are the core of any story. It doesn’t matter how good your novel idea may be, if your characters are weak, boring and unrealistic then you are not going to hold your readers interest. Characters need to be exciting and giving your protagonist flaws and making them argumentative or even a little nasty doesn’t mean they will be unlikable. Look at Bella from the Twilight series. Stephanie Meyer has her vampire loving butt flitting back and forth between Jacob and Edward, almost playing them off one and other. She pouts, she moans and she never listens to anyone and yet the fans love her. Why is that? Is it because she is strong willed and willing to fight for those around her? It’s certainly not because we are told to like her. Readers are clever and will make up their own minds about what they like, even if they are swept up in the sea of phenomenon that is Robert Pattison.
One of the most resourceful things I’ve learnt, and therefore apply before plotting any story, is to thoroughly create my characters. They are, after all, what we are going to be writing about for the next 6 – 12 months so it makes sense that we should know them better than the back of our hand, right? Of course it does.
Now, let me ask you a question. If you were to write your own autobiography, where would you start? At age ten when you took your first piano lesson? Think again. You would start from the moment you were born. Second question: Would you write only about yourself? *Shakes head*. You would include your parents, siblings and relevant friends, wouldn’t you? Say ‘yes Donna’. It probably seems obvious when you are thinking about yourself, but maybe not so obvious when you are thinking about your characters. Be nice, give them a past and bring them to life. You’ll soon see they are no longer untouchable but have in fact become a real life living person.
Now thrashing out your characters is no quick process, although you will get quicker as time passes, and it is vital that you keep them consistent. If you are inventing a villain with a lisp, keep him as villain with a lisp. If you are writing about a sociopath with absolutely no conscious, don’t suddenly make him feel sorry for the neighbour’s dog when the owner beats it for barking all the time. Think about all the characters you’ve either read about or watched on the television. In the good movies they’re all consistent. How many times have you seen Michael Myers about to kill someone only to have second thoughts at the last minute and guiltily break down? Never (well apart from one of the sequels where he hesitates in killing his niece, but that was rubbish so it doesn’t count). He is a killer and his back story supports that. He killed animals as a kid and famously killed his sister. He is a psychopath and has absolutely no conscience. On the other side we have our heroes. Let’s look at the well loved Dean Winchester from TV’s Supernatural. He is strong and tough and scared of nothing. He fights and kills demons, vampires and witches without any hesitation, but does all this killing make him a psychopath too? Hell no! Dean has a conscious for a start plus he loves Sam (his brother) and even sacrifices his own life to bring Sam back from the dead. He is conflicted. He wants to experience what a normal, loving family could be like and yet knows he has to continue being a demon hunter to protect mankind. He can be arrogant, flippant and a womaniser. He drinks and won’t let anybody touch his car. But do we hate him? Do we heck. No, we love him even more because every flaw is counteracted with an emotion. We’ve seen him cry and struggle with death and loss. He is that real person we either all want to be or all want to know. And why is this? Because right at beginning, before the pilot was even written, the writer sat down and worked out who Dean was going to be. Plus he is easy on the eye, which always helps. It worked for Daniel Craig’s portrayal of James Bond as we finally saw the hard nosed spy with a heart and that is how we like our heros to be.
Having said all that, tell me who your favourite character is and why?