Character Development (BKSP notes)

Perfect is boring.  Sometimes we like our characters so much it’s hard to let some of those flaws come to the surface.  But that’s what makes them interesting.  Use your character’s weaknesses or flaws to make them compelling.  Think about fight scenes.  If your main character always beats every villain in a fight and comes out unscratched, after awhile the fights become meaningless.  But when they’re beaten inches from death and somehow find the strength to keep on fighting, that’s what makes them interesting.

I recently re-watched The Princess Bride.  Remember when Inigo finally catches up with the 6-fingered man only to be knifed in the gut?  Everything his whole life has been about seems to be teetering on the edge of complete failure.  But he finds the courage to stand up, and even then the Count stabs him again.  He gathers even more strength, repeating the words he’d promised to say to Count Rugen over and over again: “Hello!  My name is Inigo Montoya!  You killed my father.  Prepare to die!” Now it becomes a chant giving him power to finish the job.  How uninteresting would the scene have been if when he’d first encountered the Count he’d just killed him right then?

We have to see the troubles to see the complete person.  That’s how we connect with a character.  If you fully love someone, you love all of them–including those weaknesses.  But, as they advised in the forum, don’t let your ego get in the way.  Don’t broadcast information about yourself.  Draw on your own experience to give depth to a character, yes.  But don’t use that character to talk about yourself.  They recommended not writing about yourself or things that happened to you, because you’ll likely do this.  And just because it actually happened doesn’t necessarily make it good fiction.

Some ways to really connect with your character include practicing empathizing with them.  Think like them.  How would they see the world?  One character might see New York as the city of magic where she had her first romantic experience.  Another would look at that same city with loathing, the place where she lost her boyfriend.  Even mimic their movements.  How do they walk?  How do they talk?  Are they confident?  Shy?  How would a person like that behave in a social situation?  Where are they comfortable?  Etc.

A couple of other writers and I actually practiced this while trying out good eats at Max Brenner’s.  We tried to take on the mannerisms of the waitress to catch her attention.  I know, it sounds weird, but hey, she finally came over so we could place an order for these delicious babies!

If you feel uncertain about doing this sort of thing, go to the park and people watch.  What can you derive from watching a person that tells you about them?  Put that into your story.

I’m just people watching the other people watching me…

They also mentioned Hemingway’s iceberg, that we put a lot more thought into a character than actually ends up on paper.  Don’t do the dreaded “info dump.”  You probably know what I mean, where you try and tell us their entire life history on the first page.  I know I’ve done that in early writing.  I still do sometimes in early drafts.  That’s why we can all be grateful for rewrites!

You have to be willing to put down what’s wrong on a page to get what’s right.  You can’t be afraid of making mistakes all the time or you’ll never get anywhere.  Just accept that first, second, third, etc. drafts will likely not be the final draft.  Find readers who you trust to see if what you’ve written feels authentic.

And one odd tip I found interesting and I think will be extremely helpful in the future.  Print off your whole book and read it backward page by page to check the grammar.  You can’t get sucked into the story and you’ll be able to see errors you couldn’t otherwise.

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4 thoughts on “Character Development (BKSP notes)

    • I should note whomever said it in the forum meant don’t read the sentences backward, just the pages. But I’m thinking you got that. Hope you’re making progress on your book. I’m still marinating over mine…

  1. And here I was about to go through and read Tricky Business word-for-word backwards. 😉

    Hi Jae great post! I have to admit that I hate completely perfect characters, they annoy me. But too flawed isn’t always good either. But I love your example with “Princess Bride,” one of the best movies, ever! Also, I might be willing to kill for another one of those tasty hot chocolates…

    • I hear there are other Max Brenner’s spread across the country. How is Tricky Business coming btw? I recently had a revelation of sorts on my book, I need to marinate the ideas for a bit before putting them on paper, but I really think I’m going to move forward in positive ways.

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