Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Building Character(s)

I'm in love with Augustus McCrae. Tough. Soft. Humorous. Brave. Philosophical. Friend. Courageous. Moral. Immoral. Uncommitted. Totally driven. Full of regret. Full of hope. I cried when he died in chapter 96 of Lonesome Dove.

I have known the deep yearning Heidi had as she sought her beautiful mountains down in the crowded city. Until I reached Colorado, she was my little beacon and muse as I sat in a college dorm deep in the heart of Texas. I am indebted to her as I look at my mountains that are outside my window today.

And that my dear readers is the power of a character in a fictional piece.

As you are working on your piece, you are also in the process of creating characters that are telling your story. So who are they? What did you name them? What are they like? Will they be memorable?

Again, I am just one step ahead of you all in this fiction-writing process. But it is an exciting journey to be on. Here are some fun ideas about character-building that I came across in a Writer's Little Book of Wisdom, by John Long:

1. A character without a purpose is a story without a cause.

2. Give a character a valid grievance.

3. The fact that one character wants to explore Saturn and another character wants to elope with the janitor’s stepdaughter is of little importance. It’s the intensity of the wanting that fuels the story.

4. Work to make a character achieve a credible degree of salvation in an unresolved world.

5. Feelings should vibrate from what a character does, how he moves and what he says.

6. Sensual and emotional vividness give us a sense of who a character is.

7. A character without inner turmoil or contradictions belongs in vestments or in a coffin, not in a story.

8. A character faces a crisis. He must change, or die. Desperate, he takes action. Fill in the blanks.

9. Most people cannot and will not change unless financial, physical, emotional and spiritual ruin forces them to.

10. If your character isn’t a mélange of your father, boss, childhood bully, neighbor, and the corner tamale vendor, chances are you’ve created a cartoon.

11. Allow characters to reveal themselves through words, thoughts and deeds.

12. Never announce character traits to the reader.

13. Memorable characters do normal things in unforgettable ways.

14. Characters who do unbelievable things are often unbelievable.

15. Words and behavior match only in the most exceptional people.

16. It is uncanny that the degree to which we feel for a character is relative to how much that character changes in the course of the tale.

17. A character might lie, but his body rarely does.

18. Tone and body language are the internal externalized.

19. There is only one thing more important than a character’s actions: what he thinks about before he goes to sleep.

It is 10:00 p.m. I've had 3 cups of coffee, so I'm not sure when sleep will come. I am thinking about tomorrow and all the deadlines I must meet at work. No, what I'm really thinking about is the hard telephone call I had with my mother today...

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