Tuesday, January 18, 2011
Tuesday Writing Tips - Crafting Characters
Characters are the heart and soul of your story, but what makes them cross the line from two-dimensional to three-dimensional? What makes them compelling?
Author David Corbett offers four elements that you can add to your characterization and I think they're spot on.
To cross the line, keep your character's internal compass consistent, yet ensure they can still surprise you.
First, a character has to have a driving need, desire, or goal. What makes a character interesting is what that character wants, and the stronger the desire, the more compelling the drama. Desire helps to create conflict, and how your character manages conflict makes the story interesting.
Second, secrets make interesting characters. If there's a trait or an incident the character wants hidden, but is revealed, it might make that character lose standing with family and friends. What makes secrets delicious is that they tell readers what characters have to lose and why.
Third, contradictions bring to light what readers can't predict and thus shows surprise. For example: a character can be desperate, yet proud, and decide to take a job that might not be up their alley, just so they can earn a living.
Lastly, nothing draws a reader to a character than vulnerability. When people need help or are wounded, we're drawn to help or feel sympathetic to that character. Secrets play into this trait. If the character is afraid of the secret getting out, it gives the character a vulnerability they might not have had.
What can you do to help deepen characterization? Flesh your characters out. Cast the character. Write character bios. What do they like? Dislike? Write a flash fiction or short story to get to know them. Draw on real life inspiration such as friends, family members, and co-workers. You can also make a list of your emotional triggers. For example: What's your greatest fear? When did you show true courage? By drawing on your triggers, you can bring added dimension to your character's desires, wants, needs, secrets, contradictions, and vulnerabilities.
Reference: "Hooked on a Feeling," by David Corbett, page 32-36, Writer's Digest, Jan 2011.