Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Write Club: Week 4 -- Characters

Hey y'all.  I know last week that I was ranty, and didn't really get into activities.  Sorry about that.  We had an influx of new people, and I had to make sure we were all on the same page, as well as get through a particularly ranty topic.  Don't worry.  From now on, I'm going to be doing a lot more activities.  I just had to get that one ranty week over with.

And so it is!  This week, we will be focusing on characters.

For our warm up exercise, we'll be taking the pictures I got from Lowe's and looking at them again.  We won't be making up stories, however, but rather coming up with characteristics of why the person put each item in their room.  Why did they paint the walls green?  What kind of person would want a chimney in the living room?  Exactly what sort of person would have a white chaise lounge?  Think of specific things that directly correlate to specific items in the room.

Characters are the real source of plot.  While world can give you ideas or conflicts, characters are what drive the story on.  Unlike what you might think, characters are not ideas.  They are not static concepts that you control by your will as a writer.  They are real, living, breathing people who simply have the misfortune of living in the alternate universe that has you as its creator and master.   Yes, I'm using hyperbole, but that doesn't mean it isn't true.

You see, your characters are not your puppets, and the more you treat them like puppets, the more your readers will dislike you.  Thing is, characters have nature.  They like certain things, dislike others, and in any given situation, they will do activity X and not activity Y; they would never do activity Z.  You can't force them into activity Y by just making them do it.  You have to give external reasonings so that it makes sense to them to do activity Y.  Nothing under any circumstances will get them to do activity Z, and therefore you just have to work around activity Z.

So there are three natures of a character:  what they will do, what they won't do, and what they would rather die than do.  Most of the time, you won't have to concern yourself with what a character would rather die than do, unless your story is an examination of morality, your character suddenly gains a lot of power, or you're doing a parable of the Soviet gulag or something like that.  In most books, you just have to concern yourself with what your character will or won't do.

For these meeting, we'll just focus on what your character will or won't do.  These two are determined by characteristics: the little bits and pieces that make up the soul of a person.  So, how do we turn characteristics into story?

It's actually not so hard.  All you have to do?  Try.  There's a weird thing about a writer where they think they can't do something, but then you tell them to and they do.  People are weird.  Anyway, what I plan on doing is a little exercise where I take three characteristics and write them on little notepads.  Each member will receive a notepad and use those three characteristics to write a story.

- Just turned 5 years old
- Wants to be a hero
- Likes to daydream

Now, this is a particularly easy one.  I've done this activity with others before, and the person who had these characteristics wrote a little scene where it was the kid's birthday, and he imagined that the candles on the birthday cake lit the house on fire and he had to put out the fire.  It was a good, highly imaginative piece.  Here, I'll write you a few more characteristic sets

- It's a dog
- Doesn't like mice
- Long fur

She works at the post office
Shops too much
Really likes Spain

Runs a company
Doesn't like robots
Watches the History channel

So after everyone writes their piece, the others will have to guess what three characteristics the writer was given.  This is for no purpose other than to exercise one's brain, participate, and have fun.  And to also learn to interpret characters.  It's not really about being accurate about the three characteristics, but being able to interpret how the character is and how the character isn't.  For example, the person in example two shops too much, so it's a rational assumption that she's broke all the time or unsatisfied with her material goods.

One thing you can do to work on the character you have created is to create a list of five positive statements about your character, i.e., "my character is..." or "my character likes...".  Then create a list of five negative statements: "my character is not..." or "my character does not like...".

This can be the basis of plot, as it will determine what your character does in a given situation and also help you choose what kind of conflicts you can stick your character in.  I've heard that a story is a long series of saying "no" to your character and making it hard for them to get what they want.  If you know what they don't want, you can force them into that situation for conflict to make it more interesting.

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