The topic for today’s post was inspired by the new film The Amazing Spider-man whereby it is stated at one point, that there is only one type of plot in fiction: WHO AM I? Books about writing will often argue over how to write good characters and how many types of plots exist in fiction yet this fundamental question drives many plots and is one that many of us still cannot answer.
Many films and novels play out this core question yet what is it that gives this depth to your writing? What is the difference between a simple story and a complex one that appeals universally. The answer for the most part is drama. Comedy can be wonderfully entertaining but also it can be very deep and when coupled with real dilemmas of the spirit your stories can come alive.
Think about the last great film you watched that had a really interesting character, one that seemed like more than just another `hero’ type or `villain’ type or `joker’ type. Chances are that they weren’t full of self-confidence and self-assurance. More likely the character had many different parts to their personality, parts that could be good but parts that could be as bad as any villain they may face. The same goes for the villain. They aren’t just the bad guy, they could be good. They could be any one of us. Whichever character you write, put yourself in their position. Imagine it could be you or someone you know that could be going through what you are putting your characters through. Disturbing as that may seem, much of writing is about empathy and dealing with the multiple levels of confusion and uncertainty that everyone goes through on a daily basis. The story is just amplifying this.
Even when you create a character in a fantasy setting, where out-of-this-world events can happen, the characters are the ones `experiencing’ these strange things. In your private writing twilight zone/s, these fictional creations are going through something and it’s your job as the writer of the tale to give them depth and soul. In a story where the characters are given only basic archetype personalities of hero vs. villain, the reader often struggles to connect with the protagonist.
After all if your characters do not have doubts, do not struggle, do not fail sometimes and do not have their own inner demons to deal with how can the reader feel that they are essentially human (even if they aren’t physically human). Remember to give your characters their struggles. At the same time remember the existential dilemma that is the core of most great characters: Who are they? What do they want? What is the right thing to do?
An excellent post. I think that another important thing with characterization is getting their voices right. If you took your character’s lines out of context, would you still know who was speaking those lines? Or would they all sound alike and be interchangeable? 🙂
That’s a very good point. Voice is important otherwise everyone ends up sounding the same. Another problem is when your characters start sounding like they are telling the story rather than being a part of the story. Thanks for stopping by. 🙂
Making each character distinct from one another is important too – many of the books I’ve read recently have missed out on this opportunity to provide a ‘counterpoint’ character who highlights the protagonist’s struggle and inner demons. They don’t necessarily have to be opposites, but giving characters opposing qualities is a good way of adding conflict.
That’s very good advice. I’ve never considered it before but when I think about it now, I have added tended to add counterpoint characters without even realizing it. Thanks for posting!