More than any other quality, contrast defines characters. By contrasting two characters, the strongest character dynamics are achieved. Almost any relational story that comes to mind, whether a romance, a partnership, or a friendship, probably contains contrasting characters.
Keep the association between characters tight. Ensure they need each other for things to work. Change the emotions of one of the characters. What piece of information (truth or secret) could cause problems?
This is your characters’ story and if they are well-conceived, they will be consistent and in their own way, predictable. Trust them to act and react according to their own values and beliefs.
The best characters have a sense of humour. Let them have fun at your expense. Forget your carefully planned outline and hold on. It’s time for the helter-skelter. Enjoy the ride.
You may not love your characters but you do have to defend them. Our characters arise out of our need for them.
Always look for something you can identify with in each of your characters, good or bad. Always look for something honest. And then, once you have the perfect cast, the story will virtually write itself. Now the most important work is done and the fun can start.
It’s time to play.
- What is your character hoping for?
- What is your character afraid of?
Something or someone must stand in her way otherwise there is no conflict, no tension and therefore, no story. The dramatic tension lies in the contrast between hope & fear.
Your reader wants two things – to identify with your hero and to escape from her own reality. So, from the outset, tell us what the hero wants to achieve. That is our hook into the story. Now, keep the hero focused on this objective. Nothing else matters.
If your hero moves aimlessly through the action, only reacting to events, then we are in danger of losing our interest in her story.
So, force the hero into action. And the more extrovert she is, the better. Extroverts just can’t help making a fuss. Add to that the ability to be frightened and you have got an interesting character. Without fear, your character can’t exhibit true courage. And if there is no courage, then the character doesn’t grow and isn’t changed by the adventure. And that would be a disappointment.
We are dealing with a sympathetic character (the hero) who has to overcome a series of increasingly difficult, seemingly insurmountable obstacles and achieve a compelling desire (or knowledge).
It consists of assiduously asking three simple questions:
What does the hero want?
What hinders her from getting it?
What happens if she does not get it?
The strong character always expresses a definite point of view. Her point of view is the way she sees the world. Such a character is active, not passive – she ‘acts’ from her point of view, not just simply reacting to what goes on. She has plans. She has opinions. She is interesting.
Show us, don’t tell us, what’s going on and why. Don’t write ‘She was loud and rude’ but “Get outa my way, you jerk!’ she bellowed.
Is the character interested by what’s going on? Keep her active – no sitting around, doing nothing as she might walk off stage. Where does she go? Round out the character by showing complex psychology and emotions such as fear, frustration, anger, rage and envy.