On Characters and How to Make Them…on March 28, 2014 at 6:31 pm
I tend to cringe at the idea of offering writing and creativity advice; mostly because its hard to overcome the feeling that the only thing I’m good at is pigheaded tenacity to simply not quit when any rational human being would have, and that any successful creation is an accident more than design. Any revelation into my “method” will reveal the heinous reality that I’m a hack and a fraud, and so it’s best to just maintain this sage like aura of detachment. But as people keep slapping me about… I need to reach out and be engaging, no matter how much I’d rather just sit in the corner and do my work and let everyone come to me.
I’m told this whole creating professionally thing works like that. Who knew?
So, I think what I’ll do instead is just throw out some of ideas I’ve developed over the years and maybe it might give people something to think about.
I’m trying here okay? Chatty-content stuff is hard.
There’s No Such Thing as a Likeable Character
In that, I mean there is no way to guarantee that your audience will like any character, no matter how you try. Designing a story around the concept of your audience becoming emotionally invested in Character A is a risky proposition. If it gamble works, great. But if it doesn’t… the impact your hoping for could likely wind up the exact opposite, assuming your audience sticks around for what you hope the payoff is.
There’s No Way to Write a [x] Character
One of my guilty pleasure movies is “As Good as it Gets.” Not because I think it’s good (it really isn’t all that), but because it mercilessly tortures the “rules of writing”, and I find that endlessly fun.
Like this particular exchange:
“How do you write women so well?”
“I think of a man, and I take away reason and accountability.”
Now that’s obviously not true, or even remotely close to good advice, and that’s the point really.
So What IS the Point?
You aren’t writing characters. You’re not writing a “likeable” character. You’re not writing a “female” character, or a “male” character, or a “gay” character, or whatever label you attach as a prefix.
You are writing a person. Who happens to be female, or male, or gay, or black, or white, or with downs syndrome, or in a wheelchair, or with six eyes and scales, etc… (I think you get the picture here, right?). As much as people in real life identify with their traits, ironically enough I have found that the most well-rounded characters are the ones that are built with the traits tertiary. You need to pare it down to the core first, because really at the end of the day, there are so many different people who behave so many different ways that as long as the person is internally consistent, the traits fall into place around that. Much like how I think people really develop. The identity builds around the person… the person doesn’t build around the identity.
So that would be my advice when you sit down to make your character. Start from scratch. Don’t come into the process with any preconceptions as to what you want that character to be, then start filling it in, and see what comes out of it.
Any other concepts you want to pick my brain on? Ask away… I might actually answer.