Tuesday 3 July 2012

Characters are people too?

I’ve had some interesting discussions in recent weeks. Frogs and their girlfriends not the least of these. One issue has re-emerged several times. The issue of character.
In fictional terms – what is a character? What’s the difference between a character and a person? And if there is a difference, what does that mean for those of us struggling to create great characters? I’ve been challenged by these questions, and more. So I did some research.
In the past week I’ve read a fairly divergent range of views on the subject. From litigation risks using real people in your fictional characters – to what constitutes the feel of a great character. And though the experience was very beneficial, I think I’m at the same place I was in the beginning.
And that is... Characters are not people. Some not at all...
Even human characters are fragments of real people. Reflections of people. They may look and sound and smell and feel and, God forbid, taste like real people, but they are not. And if that’s true, then it frees the writer to break some “people rules” when they draft their characters.
Below are some rules I plan to write by. You might as well – or not.

 1)      Characters are amalgams. They can be anything you want them to be. Parts of real people or not. I wrote a character piece this week where a woman had a face like a red potato. Now no living person seriously looks like a red potato, but I think the imagery works.
2)      Characters do not have to have redeeming features. No person is without a redeeming quality, but a character can be. Remember – their role is to help you tell a story, not to be a real person.
3)      People can be boring, but characters shouldn’t. Or if they are, make them entertainingly boring... OK, think about that one for a while... it will make sense.
4)      Characters have to move the reader. All the great characters of fiction move you in some way – even if it’s negatively. Characters help earn you the right to have a reader read on.
5)      You don’t have to tell the reader everything about a character for them to “get” it. And if your hints are good enough, the reader might discover things about your character that even you didn’t know.
OK, that will do for now. Comment below if you like – hairyipants, are you out there? I have some characters to write.

1 comment:

  1. Mmmmm, people who taste like real people...
    Mmmmmm, women whose heads look (and taste) like red potatoes...
    Not so mmmm, characters who smell like real... hmmm, digressing time?
    On your Rule 5)
    In Bukowski's "Hollywood", he uses a great line to describe a Tom Jones-style Vegas showman. For me, that one line to describe the character is better than a whole page could ever be. Here it is...
    'His mouth was a horrible hole, torn in a pancake.'
    I see him. You see him. He doesn't look the same to you and I, but he looks perfect to both of us.