Mind where you get your characters

 With NaNo only weeks away and reading the questions coming up in the forum, I thought I write a bit on creating characters for beginners. The biggest problem right now seems to be that they try to create characters based on games and anime. That’s all nice if you write them, but not good if you are working out good, solid, literature character. I have met characters in games that are deep and seriously good and thus my attempt here isn’t to tear them down as something evil. But with the shallow water they are often swimming in in wikipedias and publicity stunts, I would think twice to use them as literature examples for creating my own.

If you write romantic relationships – don’t model them using anime. I am sorry, but that’s probably the first reason you are having problems dealing with them. Articles about anime, including manga, dealing with the series characters tend to be simple, scratching often only the surface and including only few traits of the character. Also, comparing the new lovers with the rest of the genres, they also tend to be set up so that women are overemotional and pushy, gentle and men either very shy type or boss-like emotionally barren. Here I’m not talking about erotic manga or anime. That’s all good for screen, but if you are writing stories trying to impress readers and fill the pages, that’s just not enough. There is more in lover’s inner life than obsessive need and that should show through the story, their reactions and reasons why they are reluctant to take up the offer or why they have difficulties making the relationship work. Instead of burying your head in mangas – look around. Watch people on the streets, school, libraries – wherever you are. How do they act? What makes them frown or crash their nails into pollster of the seats? How long does it take the couple from holding hands to their first kiss? Can you see the beating heart written in their blushing cheeks?

Fantasy writers – forget games! Please! I’ve read already fourth forum post that talks about creating an elf, which has elemental powers (and DO research on them first!) and the next question would be “what level in the game should that elf be?” Dungeons and Dragons manuals are indeed my favorite reference books, too, but step out of it! Loosen your boundaries! The dwarf can be over-grown and there can be midgets amongst trolls. Entire species, now that I think of the Norwegian legends. How about turning towards folklore for inspiration instead of games?  What’s in games is already thought out, what’s in folklore is yet to be re-discovered. How about looking into your local mythology? There’s a house probably that folktales whisper rumors – what are they about? A ghost? Perhaps it’s not a ghost, but something more sinister, who has lived in burrows under the house and has just a century ago managed to dig through the concrete and is now doing everything in his power to get the intruders to leave and keep the place for his own. Or perhaps the innocent tale you saw as a kid proves now fatal to your kids, because it happened to be a decoy of a child snatching ghostly figure you thought was just funny made-up story by your friend? Doesn’t have to be a creature – it can be a simple smoke coming from the wrong place or anything else that you can see around you. Clean patch of land that nothing grows on? Something buried there perhaps? Or the lightning strike there years ago and it still bring shivers over your spine?

The idea here is that instead of keeping yourself bound by the medias you are already familiar with, let loose and write. There are few things every character should have, which would give them more substance, but as even the greatest novelists can tell you – they might work and might not. The three things should be a goal, a secret, morals and a desire, shortly “a Goose Mode”. Goose – because you act as its herder, like you herd your characters around. Also, because Go(al) + Se(cret) Mo(rals)+De(sire). No, it’s not scientifically from some book.

Every character has goals and drive to reach the goals they set for themselves. Think of a little girl, who has watched entire day how mom makes scones for Sunday picnic. The smell rolling around the house is unbearable and by the end of the day, she has no other thought left in her head than what the tasting buds tell her to desire: “You want that scone and you must get it! Today, for tomorrow is too late!”. She has a goal – get that scone!

On the next day, after getting that scone from the pantry shelf, she goes around with guilty look – she ate one of the scones yesterday. But it’s Sunday – church service is ending every minute now and mom will unpack the food she made yesterday and one of the scones will be missing! How would she explain that? What if she could hide it somehow? She now has a secret AND new goal – innocent little girls with secrets, mm! Things get interesting here!

But wait, she is a good girl after all, Sunday school best and she does know what she did was wrong. So when mom unpacks the scones, she is already prepared for the drama, prepared to the fact that she’ll have to face the truth… and instead mom gives her the scone and there are again three for each family member. She quietly eats the scone and stays silent. In the evening, when mom comes to help her read the evening prayer, she confesses eating the scone. Mom nods, accepting her apology, tugs her in and kisses her on her cheek, saying: “I know, darling, I made few extra just in case, just don’t do it again.”

The characters don’t always have to be all flesh and blood, but those four building blocks should always be there. Then, even if just simple fillers, they have enough dept to shine. Like my art teacher said once: “If you have a white paper flat on your table – it is just 1D. If you pick it up and turn half of it, you get 3D, with all the colors and shadows.” I feel the same way about the characters – you can only make them 1D by giving them their looks, but if you add the shading, you get characters that can grow and move and won’t fall over with the first wind of criticism.

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Filed under characters, kirjutamisest, writing trivia

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