Reblogged: A Few Essential Tips on Character

Just a few essential tips that I found in a really great article you can read here. We all need to remember a few of these from time to time.

Act Upon The World Rather Than Have The World Act Upon Him

Don’t let the character be a dingleberry stuck to the ass of a toad as he floats downriver on a bumpy log. We grow weary of characters who do nothing except react to whatever the world flings at their heads. That’s not to say that characters shouldn’t be forced to deal with unexpected challenges and left-field conflicts — but that doesn’t prevent a character from being proactive, either. Passivity fails to be interesting for long. This is why crime fiction has power: the very nature of a crime is about doing. You don’t passively rob a bank, kill your lover, or run a street gang. Simply put: characters do shit.

Boom Goes The Dynamite

Blake Snyder calls this the “Save The Cat” moment, but it needn’t be that shiny and happy. Point being: every character needs a kick-ass moment, a reason why we all think, “Fuck yeah, that’s why I’m behind this dude.” What moment will you give your character? Why will we pump our fists and hoot for him?

Nobody Sees Themselves As A Supporting Character

Thus, your supporting characters shouldn’t act like supporting characters. They have full lives in which they are totally invested and where they are the protagonists. They’re not puppets for fiction.

How You Succeed Is By Not Having Them Succeed

You as storyteller are a malevolent presence blocking the character’s bliss. You must be a total asshole. Imagine that the character is an ant over here, and over there is a nugget of food, a dollop of honey, and all the ant wants is to trot his little ant-y ass over to the food so that he may dine upon it. Think of the infinite ways you can stop him from getting to that food. Flick him into the grass. Block his path with twigs, rocks, a line of dishsoap, a squeeze of lighter fluid set aflame. Be the wolf to his little piggy and huff and puff and blow his house down. Pick him up, put him in the cup-holder in your car, and drive him 100 miles in the opposite direction while taunting him with insults. The audience will hate you. But they’ll keep on hungering for more. Will the ant get to the food? Won’t he? Will he find his friends again? Can he overcome? Primal, simple, declarative problem. You are the villain. The character is the hero. The audience thirsts for this most fundamental conflict of storyteller versus character.

Beware The Everyman, Fear The Chosen One

I’m boring. So are you. We don’t all make compelling protagonists despite what we feel in our own heads, and so the Everyman threatens to instead become the eye-wateringly-dull-motherfucker-man, flat as a coat of cheap paint. The Chosen One — arguably the opposite of the Everyman — has, appropriately, the opposite problem: he’s too interesting, a preening peacock of special preciousness. Beware either. Both can work, but know the danger. Find complexity. Seek remarkability.

A Tornado Beneath A Cool Breeze

A good character is both simple and complex: simplicity on the surface eradicates any barrier to entry, and complexity beneath rewards the reader and gives the character both depth and something to do. Complexity on the surface rings hollow and threatens to be confusing: ease the audience into the character the way you’d get into a clawfoot tub full of steaming hot water — one toe at a time, baby.

Get All Up In Them Guts

Know your character. Every square inch. Empathize, don’t sympathize. Understand the character but don’t stand with the character. Get in their skin. The closer you get, the better off you are when a story goes sideways. Any rewriting or additional work comes easy when you know which way the character’s gonna jump. Know them like you know yourself; when the character does something under your watch, you know it comes justified, with purpose, with meaning, with intimate knowledge that the thing she did is the thing she was always supposed to motherfucking do.

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One thought on “Reblogged: A Few Essential Tips on Character

  1. K- Tequila Mockingbirds 15-May-2012 / 16:15

    “Don’t let the character be a dingleberry stuck to the ass of a toad as he floats downriver on a bumpy log.” That is the most amazing sentence I’ve read all month, as well as being spot-on advice.

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