Some writers feel that characters are found, and, as with new friends, we discover their personalities in stages. I know mine are definitely incomplete at the beginning of a story. Generally I have an idea of the characters, setting and plot, but the protagonist’s inner conflicts emerge as I write. I find it takes time to know and understand the individuals I’m creating.
People often present different facets of themselves depending on who they are interacting with; a man is subservient to his boss, dominating with his wife, and is a Jack the Lad in front of his friends.
I came across an interesting exercise recently which is helpful when constructing characters:
Find a place, the post office, a restaurant, the ER, where people are gathered and
scrutinize their faces. (Don’t do the bug-eyed stalker thing; be circumspect as
you've no desire to end up explaining your actions to the security guard.)
Look for distinctly asymmetrical faces - most people’s are to some extent, so this
shouldn’t be too hard.
Study the two halves separately - as best you can - and assign a separate identity to each
A wee warning as this isn't the easiest writing exercise I've ever tried, but I went to my local library yesterday and gave it a go. I did spot several faces which I thought had the following attributes: melancholic poet/friendly shop assistant; disinterested teenager/helpful nurse; intensive journalist/outgoing tour guide.
This assignment isn’t a guessing game, but an aid in constructing distinct aspects of a personality that demonstrates how someone can be in conflict with himself, and/or at odds with the world. For example, a man becomes an accountant because he is excellent at math, yet he’s frustrated as he wanted to be an engineer. You create a pressure cooker situation - he puts up with his circumstances till the day comes when he decides he’s had enough, and walks out on his life. What happens to him, and to those he left?
Fiction revolves around, and loves, conflict. A writer can create as much tension in a nervy newlywed anticipating a visit from a critical mother-in-law as in a fighter facing an opponent. If you add the unfortunate ability to burn anything the young wife cooks, you have inner and outer conflict, plus the opportunity for tragedy, or comedy - or both. Make the fight for a title which the older man wants to retain against an up and coming challenger, and you’ve heightened the stakes for your protagonist.
Having both internal and external conflicts are crucial. Readers become emotionally involved with characters, and how your character perceives the threat is what draws readers in - and keeps them captivated.
Editing continues and my plucky heroine is battered and bewildered, but like all true heroines, keeps going despite adversity – and the worst hasn’t even happened yet...
Sometimes when editing, and I’m unsure of my choice of words, I leave the word in place thinking that if I need to change it, I'll do so after the next read. Other times, I’m correcting one thing, notice other points, and follow that chain no matter how long till I’m satisfied.
I have four and a half chapters to go – starting to get excited now the end of this edit is in sight.
And my head’s buzzing with plans to keep me busy while I rest the story. I’m itching to move An Unstill Life closer towards publication, which means working on the cover; I want to plan part two of my supernatural trilogy (I have the main outline in my head - the devil will be in the details); hoping to make progress with setting up a WordPress blog, which I did start, but it slid down the list. Bottom line at the moment is as long as I’m writing, or planning about writing, or thinking about writing – life is good.
tip of finger buds
stretch from skeletal branches -
An interesting article which I’m still digesting:
I’m participating in the 100 Happy Days challenge, which I find a genuine mood lifter, so please check out my happy pics, and join me on Twitter: teagankearney@modhaiku
Thanks for visiting my blog, and please do leave a comment.
To all story lovers out there, good reading, and to those of you who write, good writing.
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