Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Characters Who Want Things

What do you do when your character is too resigned or weak?  She may want things, but she doesn't want them enough.  Readers don't want to read in the head of someone who does not want something.  Wanting chocolate enough to complain about it doesn't count, unless the character is traveling to the world of the damned to trade her soul for the alchemist's ring, granting her the skill to turn anything she wants into chocolate.  I know, that was terrible.

Sol Stein suggests an imagined scene--played out in the head of the author--in which the resigned character, the one who doesn't want things, sits calmly in the room as the door slams open.  Imagine another character storming into the room. She looks like the first character, they have the same name, but that is where the similarities end.  The new character tells the resigned one to take her sorry self out of the story and orders the author, "Listen up!  I have something to tell you!"  This new character is in charge.  She wants things with a passion of which the old character never dreamed.  She will find a way to get what she wants and she'll tell the author all about it, if the author will listen.  Good fiction is not passive.  To write good fiction, we must rid ourselves of characters who de-energize the work.

Another way to write a character who will drive the story is to discover what she wants through dialogue.  Interview her and ask her questions about herself, her family, her friends, her greatest fear, and her greatest desires.  What does she want more than anything else and what is she willing to do to get it?

Stein also suggests composing a letter--from the new character to the author.  A letter that is candid, bold, and a touch eccentric.  In the letter, the character should reveal to the author something the author doesn't already know.  As odd as it sounds to write yourself a letter, as your character, it is a surprising and powerful writing exercise.  One that may answer questions about your plot.

How do you flesh out the personalities and wants of your characters?

1 comment:

  1. A friend who took Martine Leavitt's workshop at WIFYR said they had to write those letters. She said it was fascinating to see what their character really knew. How did your interview go with your MC?