In Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings Extended Edition Chronicles of Middle Earth, the best thing was the chapter on Casting. (It’s half an hour, but go ahead and indulge!)
Jackson discusses how crucial casting is to the filming process and success and then each character gets an introduction and the other members of the cast usually pitch in to say something about that character or actor’s way of portrayal. This is a template every Making Of should follow and I’d love to do this for my own characters myself – though I don’t know whether reading that in a post would be interesting for readers …
Anyway, this is the post where I tell you a bit about characters. I’m going to assume your story has some or at least one. There are many pitfalls to avoid in character shaping, but that’s really something you know from reading books and consuming stories in various media already. Some books have been written because someone found another’s character appalling and wanted to create an antagonist to or more believable version of that character. Or simply loved that character so much, they wanted to spend more time with them in a different setting.
I could write a whole post on Strong Female Characters in Fiction – no, a book, probably. The underlying problem with “strength” of characters – be they male or female – is that what makes a character strong is dependant on the reader to a large extent. I feel it’s like 10% writer and 90% reader, but that’s really subjective. Mainly, it’s my feeling about supposedly strong female characters in fiction and the reality of strong women in real life. There’s a discrepancy there that is maddening. The thing that’s wrong with it from my point of view, is that many male writers are applauded for writing “strong female characters” and some female writers are criticised for writing feminine tropes.
I say, the closer your character – whether male or female – is to a real person with good and bad, strengths and weaknesses, the stronger as characters they actually are.
That’s my bottom line and I’m sticking to it. People are people everywhere and at any time. Only, some people do incredibly terrible things that border on evil (or jump across that border and plunge right in) and some people do incredibly altruistic things that make your heart swell at humanity and that you belong to the same species. But people are just that: people. It’s the writer’s job to create characters that you feel are believable living people.
These are my very simple two rules for characters:
You should always have their backstory in mind, but if it doesn’t fit the story, don’t just info dump that back story, please. It might not be as necessary as you think! Also, remember when this happens in real life, it’s usually gossip.
Every character, but especially bad guys, should have motivations for what they do, even if they (or others) never explicitly say what it is. The reader should feel that there is a logical reason behind their action even if the character’s logic is totally insane.
Example: as I was waiting for the traffic light to switch to green, the car driver on the opposite lane beeped at me and gestured that I was crazy. Hence, I checked my lights and whether something was wrong with my car – tires burning? muffled knocking and shouts for help from the trunk? was I too close to the traffic light line? Nothing. He was shaking his head furiously at me as we drove past each other and tapped his brow. I then realized I was wearing my cap … Maybe this guy hates cap wearers in general? Maybe his dad always wore a driving hat in the car and he has oedipal issues? Maybe wearing a cap inside a car on a cold wintry day was the epitome of bat poo crazy to this guy? I don’t know. I DO know there was probably a reason and that the reason probably had something to do with my cap.
Your thoughts on characters?