Friday, November 4, 2011
Here's the ultimate post for all writers who always dreamt of creating the perfect characters but never could and all those bloggers and readers who secretly wish to write bestsellers. Creating memorable characters is the key to a successful book. Bizzaro author August Fahren shares some of his secrets to creating memorable characters. He has written the bizzaro fairytale Thursday Thistle which was released on September 1st, 2011 and topped out at an Amazon bestseller ranking of 1,851 in the Kindle store making it the number one bestseller in the fairy tales category, eighth in the dark fantasy category, and eighteenth in the mythology category. Thus surpassing both Stephen King’s The Dark Tower V (Wolves of the Calla) and Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse 8-copy Boxed Set (Sookie Stackhouse/True Blood) for a short time. Here are the keys:
Characters. Memorable characters. People always want to know how did you ever come up with such an imaginative character?
There is a lot of advice out there, mostly bad, and I floundered for years with an obsession of cataloging every little detail of a character’s life. All the books said this was how it was done and all I ended up with were pages and pages of unimportant information. Honestly, did I need to know who a character’s grandfather was or what they were likely to eat for breakfast? No. Real life isn’t that way, nor should it be. You see the problem I ended up having was after I knew absolutely everything about my character they ceased to be interesting (which will come out in your writing and bore your readers) and it made me feel like I was locked into this sort of justification for every little move my character wanted to make.
So, how do we set about creating memorable characters?
We create memorable characters by identifying and filling out seven key areas to create a character, which is both interesting and relatable.
7 Keys to Memorable Characters:
1. Mystery & Essence
2. Motivation – Important shaping events
3. Deepest Secret(s) – Vulnerabilities
6. Labels & Naming
7. History Lessons
Mystery & Essence:
The first step to creating a character is to cultivate mystery. Mystery is the cornerstone of any great character. It’s what we don’t know about our characters and our ability to leave our characters slightly undefined only to find they later surprise us with what’s possible. It’s that indefinable something that is hinted at, yet never fully revealed. It’s the broad strokes that create the essence of our characters.
Take a moment and think about your friends, or even your best friend, and tell me what their grandparent’s first jobs were or their mother’s middle name. If you’re like me you’re probably scratching your head right now. Does this make you any less of a friend? Does it impact your “knowing” them or lessen your ability to describe them to another person? Not really. See, unimportant details. Now, think about your friend again and pick out those three or four things that set them apart from everyone out there, their quintessential core, their essence. Maybe when eating at a restaurant they turn their French fries into little people only to relish in biting their tiny heads off. Maybe they have a certain way of pronouncing words, catch phrases, or speaking in general that sets them apart. Whatever it is those are the important details to convey to your reader.
Now, you have the beginnings of an interesting character readers will want to know more about, but the essence of a character means little if you’re unable to fit that character within the framework of your story. So, you move on to their motivations. How they approach the world based on one or two events throughout their life, which shaped who they are today. Essentially, what we’re talking about here is decision making. Why your character will choose one thing, person, or action over another. Creating a plausible explanation for your character’s behavior makes them more believable.
After you’ve given your character a guiding principle to the way they approach life, mystery, and have captured their essence you will have a solid character. However, you will have a character that may or may not resonate with your reader. If you fail to create a character people can relate to, or at least understand, you can have the most interesting character in the world, but readers will not be moved. What’s worse is they will be quick to dismiss your whole story.
Have you ever read fiction for younger readers and noticed most of the time the main character is an orphan with evil caretakers? Or the main character is awkward, unattractive, and secretly destined for great things? The reason these themes crop up time and again is because they are part of the universal condition. Kids are still growing and developing. They grapple with appearance, identity, and fitting in. They don’t get along with their parents from time to time and sometimes even secretly wish these people weren’t their real family. So, when you create a character your readers can relate to in some small way and you’ve taken a big step towards creating a memorable and likeable character.
Speaking of secrets this is a way to sidestep all the problems of creating another cliché character background. Look deeply into your character and pull out those secrets they would only confide to their closest friend, family, or not even to themselves. This is the good stuff. Everyone has shortcomings, failures, fantasies and dark desires. When you create vulnerabilities in your characters it makes them more human. More real. Not to mention it can create situations where your character has to overcome obstacles within your story to grow or learn something new about who they really are.
Since I specialize in weird fiction my character’s secrets tend to revolve around obscure philias, which serve to both inform and goes to the root of humanity, sexual desire. In Thursday Thistle, Thursday enjoys formicophilia (being crawled on by insects, specifically crickets). Which you might be surprised to learn isn’t anything new. In modern times a Buddhist monk made headlines for enjoying the sensation of ants crawling on and biting/stinging him. Cleopatra is credited with inventing the vibrator when she took a gourd and filled it with buzzing bees.
When you say to yourself, “I didn’t know about THAT,” and see that even though this character has something incredibly weird about their personality you can still relate to them you know it’s okay to be weird. I’m weird, you’re weird—We are all weird in our own way. That’s interesting.
Another way characters can be memorable is by the method they use to express themselves. In my forthcoming book Vegan Zombie & The Storks one of my main characters goes by the nickname Blue, on account of her hair (and sometimes her mood). She’s a kick ass roller derby dame and exotic dancer whose mode of expression is to flashing her chest in greeting. Why? Who knows, only Blue knows, but what I do know is you’re speculating about the reason and thus it has become interesting.
Playing with your character’s appearance can be a very simple, yet effective tool for revealing more about their personality. Is your character a reserved person who always buttons their shirts to the collar and is never seen wearing the slightest wrinkly garment? Does your character have a Mohawk and two lip rings? These things say volumes and can be toyed with throughout the story to show how your character has grown or changed simply by shifting the way they present themselves to the world.
Labels & Naming:
Creating labels for your characters or giving added meaning to your character by the name you give to your character can add depth. It serves as a sort of mental shorthand to get your readers to envision your characters more easily. If I say to you, “Cowboy” or “Goth” an image immediately pops into your head. An image you can then refine with your own specifics to take it away from the stereotype and into the realm of the unique.
Giving your character a meaningful name is a subtle way of reinforcing your character. For example Sophia means wisdom. In my book Thursday Thistle is half Indian and half Jewish, but her name isn’t particularly suited to either race. So, why did I give her that name? Well, Thursday is the fourth day of the week signifying her importance at the bottom of her family (after her father and two step sisters). It is also the fifth day of the week in the Judeo-Christian calendar and hints at another based on the princesses in the story named after the days of the week. Thursday comes from Thunor’s day so named for Thor the god of Thunder, which reinforces Thursday’s proclivity to sudden outbursts. Her surname Thistle speaks even more to her personality of beauty combined with a prickly nature (based on her past experiences). Symbolically the thistle also serves as a symbol of nobility of both character and birth and is relevant to the plot of the story.
All of this brings me to the seventh and final key to creating memorable characters, which can be summed up as history lessons. Read a lot of both fiction and non-fiction. You will read fiction to learn what works, what doesn’t, and the subtly of the inner monolog of your characters. While reading non-fiction will give you the tool to hit upon interesting topics that bring a certain extra something to your stories like my study of philias and language origins.
Watch a lot of movies, not only from Hollywood, but also independent films from all genres and countries. A romantic comedy in Hollywood is vastly different than a romantic comedy from Korea. Both have merits. Twilight, 30 Days of Night, Interview with a Vampire, Thirst, and Let the Right One In all feature vampires, but they are all vastly different takes on the same creature.
Most writers think ill of movies over the written word, but what they fail to grasp is that by studying movies it shows you how to make your characters work in a visual sense when you strip away most of their inner monolog. Which is important of course because if your reader can’t see your characters in their mind’s eye then they are less likely to be able to relate to them in general.
Lastly, travel a lot and meet people from all walks of life. This is sort of like your Ace in the hole. I fancy myself as a personality collector for a few reasons, but one of them is so I don’t have to work as hard when I create characters. When you’ve met someone like Blue in Western Pennsylvania (Yes, she’s based on an amalgamation of people I’ve known), or a gathering of people trapped in the 80’s, mullets and all, from the Midwest, or even a pimp from the South transported to the Pacific Northwest struggling with is stable of back talking little people then your job is much, much easier. Listening to vernacular and having conversations with people from a number of backgrounds will sharpen your dialog skills and breath life into your characters, which after all is what we’re all after anyway—life.
To purchase author August V Fahren's latest novel, visit: http://www.amazon.com/Thursday-Thistle-Fairy-Tale-ebook/dp/B005EH5W7U
Posted by bestcritic at 4:54 AM