Writing: Creating Believable Characters

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Character Creation     As a story develops, situations arise that require resolution. A spontaneous mental role-play may shed light on the story and character progression. Role-play is an artificial situation mimicking real life scenarios. It can be a valuable tool in creating  consistent and believable flow within the work. Role-play affords us the capacity to step outside our conditioned mind-set and surprise ourselves by creating characters very unlike ourselves. The result should be a work containing varied personality types.

     Character development is essential in a fully formed work. A story may be abundantly flowery in language, and meaningful in concept, but if the characters are one-dimensional or color by numbers, the story will fall flat. Character development is not just about describing characteristics, but rather, in allowing characters to shine through in active voice, and left up to reader/viewer interpretation.
     For example, students in a classroom may know little about each other. Everyone has likes, dislikes, particular style, age, gender, and many other qualities and qualifications. This wealth of information alone is still not enough to create dynamic and intriguing characters. A primary character requires depth. This may be introduced by way of a struggle or dilemma, a trauma, a quest, or through conflict and resolution.

     These aspects are often told through action rather than description, hence the need for active voice. Often times a lead character is forced to overcome one obstacle after another, find solutions, or defeat adversaries, while simultaneously struggling with conflicting emotions entwined with success or failure, loss or gain, or victory and defeat. The internal struggle is often the greater battle. A complete character will not only see, but also smell, hear, taste, and touch. There is more to a character than meets the eye or ear.

     A foible of neophyte writers is the tendency to describe the story step by step in minute detail, leading the reader/viewer by the hand. Actually, a reader has their own set of senses, and is often quite capable of joning the dots or painting the picture in their own minds eye. An example of this is the song writing partnership of Elton John and Bernie Taupin. Elton would recieve a piece of poetry or prose from Bernie, and proceed to interpret it into song. Often Bernie would be surprised at the finished work, but rarely disappointed, believing Elton had the interpretive ability to remain faithful to the work and yet add a special flavor of his own.

     If a particular character development is important to the story and the way other characters perceive him or her, put it in the story. If such information is irrelevant it can be dropped from the story. A complete character should be revealed inside and out during the story.

     In short stories and flash fiction, character development is often ignored due to word constraints. Such stories are often more about the premise or an occurence, rather than a deeply personalized tale. The character may simply be an observer, or a pivot around which the story evolves. A longer novel may contain many characters. Their level of significance is reflected in the degree of characterization, either described or implied. Often an individual character trait of appearance or personality is used to further the story and familiarize the reader/viewer.

     It is a thrill to watch characters develop with each re-write, and like a golem, take on a life of their own. As a hand reared hachling grows and flourishes, so we feed our story, helping it to become strong, until one day under it’s own power, it takes flight and soars. 

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