Fantasy Writing Course

Empower Your Words Today


The Characters We Shape Ourselves

Posted by Brook on October 2, 2012 at 5:55 PM

"Write what you know."

How many times have you heard that said to you?  It is a common philosophy amongst writers that you should write from experience or research.  But in order to first accomplish this task, you have to get to know yourself.  This might be hard for some people...  especially if their personalities or characteristics are undergoing change.  Perhaps they have been knocked by a tragedy to a close friend.  Years ago, they would have reacted one way - by falling apart, but now they find themselves reacting quite differently... Not only are they strong, but they find that strength has nothing to do with being hard.  They can still feel the buffet of emotions, only they embrace compassion and sadness, along with self-respect and dignity.

This is called a character arc.  At the beginning of a story, a character begins with one viewpoint and a certain set of qualities, however, over time and through tests, different qualities are revealed - strengths, weaknesses and growth.  Perhaps they come to have a different viewpoint over time.  Perhaps their socio-economic status has changed. Carefully pick scenes that emphasize the change in personality via emotional response, decision-making and dialogue.

Build rich characters.  The composition of each character will always be complex.  How can you begin to describe a lifetime of thought processes in a 60K novel?  Yet, with skillfully sketched character summaries, you can not only explain where a character is coming from, but you can let the reader successfully predict most decisions that a character is likely to make.  How?  You do that by showing what a character treasures the most. (See character motivation in the  Hermione Granger treasures knowledge she has received from books.  Therefore, when faced with a problem, you can say with 99% probability that she will go to the library.  Harry Potter treasures the memory of his parents.  He wants to avenge their murder at the hands of Lord Voldemort.  You can say with 99% probability that when faced with his enemy he will not shrink back in terror, but bravely battle.

I am reminded of the words of JK Rowling in her Harvard Speech:

"Unlike any other creature on this planet, humans can learn and understand, without having experienced. They can think themselves into other people’s places.

Of course, this is a power, like my brand of fictional magic, that is morally neutral. One might use such an ability to manipulate, or control, just as much as to understand or sympathise.

And many prefer not to exercise their imaginations at all. They choose to remain comfortably within the bounds of their own experience, never troubling to wonder how it would feel to have been born other than they are."

Categories: Characterization, J.K. Rowling, Inspiration

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