On Character

One of my most boring titles ever, yes- but it’s been a ridiculous week and we’re only halfway through, so give me a break.

I’ve been seeing a lot of advice and ideas on character out there in the writing world lately, so I just thought I’d throw my two cents in for today, along with a horrendous cliche, yes- I refer you to the above.

Sometimes a story begins with a phrase. Sometimes a picture, sometimes an event, sometimes only a name, but something always sparks that story, and something is what brings it along, what pumps through your veins and keeps you moving. But no matter how it begins, at some point,somewhere, that story’s got to have a character in it.

Who is that person? What do they want? Why has their story, out of all the stories in the world, thrown itself at you? I think these questions are at the very core of our writing.

Where someone is depends on what they do, what they like, who they know. What they like and do and who they know depends on what sort of person they are, and that is character.

The heartbeat of the story.

I think it’s easy as writers to give a character a name, a place, actions, friends, lovers, goals, activities, and ultimately story, without ever knowing who they are. We are each the hero of our own stories. We each belong in a place and time- each of us dream and believe and love and hope and dare and achieve and suffer, and even though we might be one of a crowd of millions, not a single one of us can slip into another person’s experience- except through story.

So that, rough and tumultuous as it is, is my final thought on character. A story does not exist without a centerpiece- a story is a reason, an experience, a history. Someone’s reason, experience, history. As long as that someone is clear,present and sound- fully accounted for in the writing, as long as it’s their pulse that beats through the story, you have character. And powerful character at that.

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3 thoughts on “On Character

  1. I tend to approach it from another direction. Where does someone come from, what has happened there, how has this shaped him or her. From there on it is interesting to see whether any such events can meet their mirrors or shadows in the story, andsoforth.

    You make a good point though, it can be quite hard to keep the character clear, all too easy to let events take over. Intrinsic balance.

    1. That’s a really good point- what I think is the most amazing thing of all is that you could take the same character, tell a story about them at five different points in their life, and everything would be different. Where they’ve come from and what has shaped them thus far is entwined with who they are, which impacts where they go and what shapes them next…and each place in the journey is entirely unique.

      1. Exactly, for me this approach makes it easier to slide along the scale, so to speak, in both directions. It also lets me approach rewrites or spinoffs more easily.

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