Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Service interruption

A quick post to apologise for the interruption in posting - this was due to the birth of my son on 10th June so, naturally, I have a few other priorities right now ;-)

Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Character creation #2: Protagonists

Well defined leading characters can (almost) remove the need for a plot outline. Not that I'm advocating this, but it can certainly come in handy if you've managed to paint yourself into a corner as far as story development goes.

If your characters are well defined you should be able to ask yourdelf that one important question and the answer should be obvious:

"What would he/she do in this situation?"

If you have sufficient backgroud for your character(s) and they have been well developed then this should get you out of even the most tricky situation. You may even find the story taking an unexpected, but interesting, direction.

If you can't answer that question then the chances are you need to put in a little more work on your characters.

So what is required for a "well-defined" character? You could read a number of articles and get a number of different answers but I think there are some basics that should be adhered to:

- Physical description, age, marital status, occupation, residential status (with parents, renting, homeowner etc.) and anything else you would find on a standard application form should be established first.

- Brief description of childhood. This should include where they grew up, what their parents did for a living, whether they were happy, what sort of school they went to, what their hobbies were.

- A list of current friends/partners with a brief description of where they met, how often they see each other. Of course some of these may also be primary characters.

- At least three memorable incidents from their life: winning something, a serious accident, a personal trauma, that sort of thing. The more that spring to mind the better. These are the things that define peoples attitudes to current life events.

These are just the basics and you'll find that once you've started a lot more information will come to mind. Write it all down and keep track of it, even if you think it seems irrelevant and would never matter to the story. You may be surprised.

Of course none of this information should be set in stone. If you reach a point in the story that would require your character acting in a way that does not fit their background then amend the background slightly so that it does. That car accident might become a near-drowning experience while sailing.

The important thing is that by defining the character in this way you are keeping track of who they are and you will know if you're trying to force them to do something they wouldn't.

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Friday, June 02, 2006

Character creation #1: Character types

There are a number of elements which go into making a good story but one of the most important has to be the characters it contains. If your characters are well contstructed and have sufficient personality then quite often you will find that they drive the story in directions you weren't expecting.

For example, your outline might dictate that the lead runs off with his sister's best friend, but by the time you get to write this scene you realise that your leading man simply wouldn't do that; it's not in his nature.

When this happens you can either rethink the plot - was that development necessary? - or introduce a good reason for your character to behave that way (for example, the sister's friend may be threatening to reveal something unpleasant about his sister to the world). Either way, once this happens, you can be sure that you have a fairly well developed character.

So what's the best way to develop characters to this level?

Well, first of all, we need to make a distinction between the types of characters. Your story may have only one character all the way through. Far more likely though is that it will be populated with dozens, if not hundreds of characters, many of which are never explicitly mentioned.

There are three basic types of characters that you need to think about:

The protagonists

These are the people that drive the story (and sometimes create unexpected turns). Without them there would be no story. As such it is important for them to be well defined and always behave within the boundaries you have created for them.

The secondary characters

These are the people in the story that have a background and a strong relation to the protagonists. Their actions can affect the main characters, and therefore the plot. It is important for these characters to be reasonably well defined and act accordingly.

The extras

These characters are everybody else: the taxi driver on the way to the funeral, the hot-dog salesman, the woman that runs the day care centre. Often they will remain nameless, may not speak and, likely as not, take up very little descriptive text. Often they are there by implication only. That being said they are important and you need to think about how they interact with the main characters.

We'll cover the character types in a bit more detail in the coming posts.

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