When you’re reading someone else’s book or writing your own, you’ll notice that the characters are fully shaped characters that have a life of their own. At least they should if it’s a well written story. If it’s your own story and you notice when editing that your characters are lifeless husks that seem flat and two dimensional then hopefully this week’s rant will help correct this problem.
In every genre of writing there are five possible methods of presenting your character to the reader. Be it nonfiction, fiction, drama, poetry, every character can be fleshed out either by indirect and direct methods. First I’ll quickly detail the four direct methods to shape your character.
The first direct method is character as desire. Every human being desires something from their life. For me it’s the desire to become a famous author like Stephen King and be able to sustain myself solely from my novel writing. When you’re developing your story you have to know what the desires of your character are. They are what drives both your main character as well as the minor characters. If your main character’s desire is to thwart the nemesis, then why? Alternatively, why is your nemesis doing what he/she is doing? What is the big bad guy’s desire? Why does he want to destroy the world? Another thought is what are the deep desires compared to the immediate desires of your characters? If the main character wants to overthrow the nemesis, that’s the immediate desire. What’s the deeper desire that motivates the main character to do it? Why does that villain want to destroy the world? All of these questions will flesh out your characters and breath life into them.
The second direct method is character as image. Even though you are a writer, you are also an artist. That doesn’t mean you have to break out your canvas and paint set, but as a writer you have to paint a vivid picture for the reader using words as paint and pages as the canvas. If your main character is a professional clown for hire, then how does he paint his face? What type of jokes and tricks does he do? What color is the curly fake wig? Does the main character drive a little mouse car? How well does the main character handle child critics? Remember, as the author you might have a clear picture of what is going on in the story. That doesn’t always mean that your readers will though.
The third direct method is character as voice. Obviously this means that your character is defined through the use of dialogue. Dialogue can be dramatic and direct with should be lively and vivid. Sometimes though, dialogue may be indirect and summarized. Indirect dialogue gives the sense of the dialogue without having the character speak it directly.
The fourth and last direct method is character as action. This method interacts with all the other direct methods. The desires of your character will be shown through their actions. The image you paint your character in will influence their actions. If that clown drives a mouse clown car, obviously that’s an action. Direct action through direct dialogue also is through action.
The indirect method is authorial interpretation. This means the author telling the character’s background, motives, values, virtues, etc. This method of writing has both advantages and disadvantages. The obvious benefit is that it gives the author space to move throughout time and space. Using this method as the author, it can free you up to tell an enormous amount of information in a short time. The obvious bad part of this method is that it blocks the reader from the immediacy and vividness of detail and the joy of deciding for ourselves.
I’m going to end things here because at the end of the day, you shouldn’t be reading this you should be writing your own story. So go do it! Thanks for reading everybody. Keep calm and write on!
Categories: Mastering the Craft