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Character Development: How Much Do You Care for Them?

[Article dedication to Dean R Koontz on his birthday; see History Today]

Hope you read the recent post on Character and Plot Development. A story’s heart and arteries are its characters. Even its success is closely knit with the charisma of its characters. Hence, for the creative writers, including novelists and short story writers, it is extremely important to create such living characters that can build a great rapport with readers. Here we will look closely the importance and ways of building good characters.

Where to Find Your Characters?

Some writers may tell you that they never wrote about anybody known to them personally. But, I believe it’s crap. No one can write what he doesn’t know about. You should build your characters from the people you personally know, come across the street, find in the pub, etc.

It is very worthwhile to check out popular films that have a fine story and well-crafted characters. It is best to start your work watching the works of the best of directors around. Steven Spielberg, Sam Raimi (of Spiderman series), and Peter Jackson (The Lord of The Rings) are my recommendations. When you watch the films of directors that really know the art of character development, you will know how to do it yourself. Also, I recommend watching some great actors in action.

Each Character Has Personality

The success of most popular works of art—films or novels—is dependent on its characters. Characters are ideal when they behave in the way they are expected to, not when they behave ideally. Here is the importance of individuality. A character without a personality will behave in a rather ideal way (ideal hero with all good traits and ideal villain without any) than in a way specific of it. Your first lesson is that there is no such thing as an ideal personality. Protagonist can be vapid as well as villains compassionate.

The way to build a character properly is to understand what kind of character it is. Closely interact with them to know more about their personality. Your protagonist may eventually turn out to be the villain (as in one Agatha Christie mystery I would not tell you the name of, not to foil the suspense, should you decide to read her).

Realism

We have in India, superstars in films in all languages. These stars, including Rajni Kanth, Mohan Lal, Kamal Hassan, Chiranjeevi, Amitabh Bachchan, etc., are likeable actors with reasonable acting prowess (some are regarded among the finest in the industry). However, being superstars, they have a special appeal in the public, not possessed by normal actors. Most of the successful films here are superstar films. A level-2 actor, no matter how good he is, would not normally be able to give a hit. Superstar films typically contain a lot of fight scenes, and the protagonist played by the star will be quite capable of roughing up a full gang of ruffians offhand.

While in ideal Hollywood films, actors are chosen to play characters, here the characters are made for superstars. In Hollywood, non-superstars like Harrison Ford or Clint Eastwood are still capable of big hits. Here, on the other hand, for the success of the film, mass appeal of superstars is utilized, by crafting extremely unrealistic characters for them (yes, perfect ones in every sense).

For me, the word realism has a completely new meaning. In superstar films, the star portrays a normal everyday person, who may have a family and no supernatural prowess whatsoever. However, when it comes to fighting a number of villains, the supernatural aspects seem to grace them automatically. Though these films are entertaining, they do not show any aspect of realism. The sheer fact that a normal character performs an abnormal feat makes them unrealistic.

While this is so, characters like Dracula are not, according to me, one bit unrealistic. Dracula is an abnormal character, a ghost, and it shows hideous behavioral patterns. If Dracula had done something like falling in love or philanthropy, it would have been quite unrealistic. Abnormal character doing abnormal things is realism just as normal character doing normal things; anything else is unrealistic.

That’s why Dracula is a great classic while superstar films only succeed in short-term entertainment. It’s not even worthy to compare them. Make sure at least that you make realistic characters in your writing.

Time to Build a Character

As all writers and I always say, your characters tell you the story and not you yourself. Hence, your work ends when you have a bunch of well-built characters. It’s fun thenceforth. You can talk to your characters, and let them feel, talk, and do various things, which will eventually create the story for you.

Though for short fiction, a plot can be a good place to start, I do not recommend it for novels or novelettes. If the readers can care for your characters and have quite a nice ride with them all along, they won’t care about the plot at all. Each slightest thing will interest them as well, despite how silly it may actually be.

For creating such talking characters, you, writer, should spend enough time with each character, developing it well. The character development effort should be equal for each of your characters. This means you should spend equal time to fine-tune one that appears on the second paragraph of your novel and nowhere else and the protagonist.

Interacting with Your Characters

When building your characters, it is important that you talk to them constantly. Your characters should be your closest friends for the days to come. At least until you finish off your first draft and let it dry up a bit. When you are inside your room, it is very good if you act the part of each of your characters. Let them please or hurt you profusely as they definitely will. Make sure, however, that you don’t talk to your characters when you are out in the street.

An Extra Effort to Understand Your Spouse

Do you know the most unrelenting character of a good writer? It’s the ability to understand other people. You may feel this as somewhat psychological, yes it is. A writer’s greatest weapon is the faculty to understand people related to him, because it is how they understand their characters.

How many times have you felt someone should have been a little more considerate of you? How many times has a slightest miscalculation by one of your friends hurt you deeply? How many times have you made your friend, sibling, or spouse shout ‘*******’ at you? The fact is that just as someone hurts you, you hurt others as well. Both sides may keep it secret.

Understanding others, their needs, feelings, expectations, etc., and preparing yourself according to them is a great faculty for all, not just writers. So, put that extra effort to understand others, and it will definitely pay really off all your efforts. The fact is that your slightest, slightest, slightest actions can hurt or please others greatly. Slightest injuries can build up to hatred, while slightest pleasures can build up to adoration. So, make extra effort to be well behaved.

Listen, Listen and Listen

It is a basic tip for all creative writers. Listen a lot. When you are a good listener, you will be able to have a special ear for the spoken discourse, slang expressions or clich├ęs, and nuances in feelings expressed through words. Even the minutest speech pattern alterations mean a lot to you, writer.

Target the Real World and Human Aspects

It is best to be practical within fiction. No matter what sort of fiction you write, there will always be the elements of real world in it. Bring human aspects into your writing to make it real-world. This way, you can make even a SF or fantasy story real-world.

Strange characters devoid of human aspects can easily bore readers. For instance, if you read about a stone giant in Neptunia Galaxy, fighting a terrible seventy-foot tall spider from another galaxy, it can soon bore you, unless the giant or the spider shows human aspects such as fatigue, pain, anger, etc. Humans always love to read about humans or characters that show human traits. So, target it. When you have to take sides, always take sides with humans.

Conclusion

Character development is an enjoyable work (check, check! Not work, fun). When you build your characters, it is like making new friends. Love it.

History Today

Dean R Koontz, American horror fiction writer celebrates his birthday today. He was born this day in 1945. Dean is one of my most favorite horror fiction writers. Please read my previous article (linked) about him. Happy Birthday, Dean!

Copyright © Lenin Nair 2008

Comments

  1. Very informative post and great tips. Characters in a story are almost perfect for the hero because people want to read someone overcoming human frailness.

    Thanks for sharing.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Jen, thanks for the comment

    Lenin

    ReplyDelete
  3. Interesting view of the Indian films. You pointed out that the characters are made for the superstar, I never really thought of it that way, and I find myself agreeing with you. My family watches Indian movies and I often get carried away with certain characters, so much drama in their expressions.
    I have really enjoyed learning from your various posts!

    ReplyDelete

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