Sunday, March 29, 2015

Character Development Using Ancestors

Starting with people you know (of) may take half the work out of character development (let’s hope!). Here are some ideas on how to create a well-rounded and interesting character from people in your family tree. Other than from my own experience, some of my ideas come from the book Gotham Writers’ Workshop, Writing Fiction.

Characters drive a story and are what make readers care. Here are some “rules” to follow in developing those characters:

·         Desire: A character should want something. That “want” will move the story forward. For example, in the novel I am in the process of writing, Spicey (a slave born in 1841 in North Carolina) never knew who her father was, and her mother died when she was a young girl. She is an orphan. Her strongest desires are to have a family who loves her. To give the story even more depth, I have made one of Spicey’s strongest natural traits to be that of nurturer. She not only wants to be loved, but she wants to give back love. She is a house slave and those she can bring close to her as her (pseudo) family are the white people she serves. During the story I will need to show she badly wants close relationships. In my story, and with yours, you must help the reader identify and sympathize.

·         Make your character dimensional. Explore the unique and specific details that will make the character complex. We carry with us our histories, experiences and memories which make us different from anyone else.  Rarely are people all-good or all-evil. Create fully dimensional villains by thinking of someone in your family who is the worst person you’ve ever met, but also think of at least one redeeming quality. The person I am thinking of steals from his mother; lies at the drop of a hat; has alcohol and drug abuse issues and has spent time in prison for crimes you wouldn’t speak of in polite society. Yet, his redeeming quality is that he is very sensitive and remembers past good experiences with his family that he holds close to his heart. 

·         Contrasting traits provide endless opportunity to make your characters more complex. Maybe they are struggling with their own identity? My character Spicey is nurturing, as I mentioned, but she is also very moody. She tends to let bad feelings fester.
·         Be consistent. All actions and behaviors should seem authentic to the character. If he eventually does something out of character, show the reader a glimmer of that tendency ahead of time.

·         It’s good to let your readers be surprised at something the character does. It will create a journey and discovery in your story. Just make sure it works with their personality type.

·         Characters should possess the ability to change. It is often the story’s culmination when the main character changes, even if it isn’t a complete change. Some people like to write the end of their novels first. If you do, write a passage where your main character achieves his/her strongest desire (point 1 above). Show that your character has changed.

·         Creative Invention. Even when writing about people you know (of), you should still leave room for your imagination to take them to interesting places. Transform them into characters that suit the needs of your story.

·         Take the time to get to know your characters/ancestors as if you lived in their generation and knew them intimately. Even the unpleasant character/family relations. It will help you put them on the page with more authenticity.

I am far from done on the subject of creating characters. In the next post, I will give you ideas on how to make a Character Sketch.

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