Wow! Yesterday, I opened up the floor for questions on how to create characters, and you all came up with some great ones. I think we’ll be on this thread for awhile.
A reminder: I’ll be out of town over the weekend, and won’t be home till Monday afternoon. I’ll blog Monday night, but Tuesday night is when the next e-zine goes out, so I won’t blog then either. However, you are all free to keep the dialogue going by posting comments here.
Several of you asked about how a woman can write a male POV character. About three years ago, I gave a lecture on this very topic which made me a bit famous because I told the truth about guys. I’m told the talk was quite funny, but I wouldn’t know because I was busy trying not to hyperventilate. The CD used to be available online, but I didn’t find it just now in a quick search.
Barb noted that Shaunti Feldhan’s book FOR WOMEN ONLY explains how men think. I will second this. The book is very clear. My wife had a copy and so I read it to see what Shaunti had to say. I learned that some of the things about guys that I had assumed were “obvious” and “well-known” were apparently not obvious or well-known to women. And that told me something about women. I highly recommend the book.
How do I work with a character’s voice if he carries a different diction level than I am used to? My novel involves high-born people. I have been trying to absorb myself in high diction in my reading and research, but the colloquial keeps cropping up in the actual writing. In narrative summary, the character’s voice often holds strong and true, but during scenes it fades. Are there any specific techniques for holding a character’s voice like this?
Randy sez: This is why you edit yourself later, AFTER you write the first draft. Just write the scene first and get all the conflict right. Edit it later to get the diction right, when you can focus on just that.
Is it wise to base one of the characters in a work of fiction, including her storyline, on a real person and certain disasters that really happened to her? Particularly where this lady is the widow of a famous international bestselling author?
Randy sez: I’m not a lawyer, so my answers are not legally of any value. (There, I’ve just covered my butt.) In the US, the libel laws are fairly loose and public figures probably have little protection from this sort of thing. In the UK, the libel laws are a lot stronger, and you’d likely be in deep doo-doo doing dat. I’d be really cautious about doing it, myself.
If you saw ADAPTATION, starring Nicolas Cage and Meryl Streep, you’ll know that Streep’s character is about a real author, Susan Orlean, who wrote a real book, THE ORCHID THIEF. In the movie, Cage’s character is a screenwriter trying to adapt this book to a screenplay and failing miserably. Streep’s character is portrayed as having a drug-laced affair with the primary character in THE ORCHID THIEF, something that did NOT happen in real life. As I understand it, the movie producers had to get Susan Orlean’s permisson to use her real name. And of course, Cage’s character is Charlie Kaufman, the guy who actually wrote the screenplay. A very twisted movie.
Bottom line: It sounds risky, unless you can get permission.
I sit down and write a character for some time, finish it, but then I find I always create perfect people. People I would love to be. People with amazing powers and things like that (though not always perfect personalities) and then I get all bogged down and add some things bad about the character which don’t suit him/her at all. What do you think I should do?
Randy sez: One word–kryptonite. That’s Superman’s weakness. Everybody has a weakness. It sounds to me like you’re writing “larger-than-life” characters. That’s fine. I do too. Just make sure they have weaknesses, and that the weaknesses are larger than life also. As for finding weaknesses that don’t suit your characters, we can’t have that. Find ones that suit them. If you can’t think of any, go read some biographies of famous people similar to your characters. That should give you some ideas.
OK, enough for today. I’ll be back Monday night to answer more of your excellent questions. Until then, carry on the conversation!
Thanks for the answer. I think it might just work. Besides, it will give me something new to read. Umm…besides that…yaay! first comment!
Sorry, I’m random.
Lois Hudson says
Destiny, I think we create those “almost perfect” (they probably start out perfect) characters because we wish that’s the way life really was. Movie stars used to be our heroes in the days of high glamour and carefully staged publicity, that we didn’t realize was carefully staged. Since the days of tell-all reporting, we see every little (and big) moral flaw. Even physical flaws, because we get the play-by-play coverage of tummy tucks and face lifts.
I think peeling away the mystery of these people has removed the “hero” quality to some extent, but it may help us as writers to understand how to create real characters.
I had trouble picturing one MC. Someone asked me if he was really necessary to the story. I had to think long and hard – and really get to know him better to make him real – yes, he was necessary.
If a person is dead, can you write about them in a fictional manner? I have a character in a WIP that I knew as a child but he is now dead – he is a minor character.
In another WIP that is mostly in my head right now, the historical characters are well known, related to my family through marriage, and my mother keeps telling me they were not well liked (although I don’t intend to portray them as unlikeable because I personally think they were heros with flaws). Do I need to ask their family permission to write about them? They lived 150 years ago.
Barb & Randy – thanks for the tip on the book for WOMEN ONLY — it’s on its way! When I looked it up, I noticed Feldhahn has one for MEN and PARENTS also. I bet these would all be useful to writers. THANKS!
I also have the book coming, thanks!, as my MC and one of the antags are male. And I’m working on my character letters (this does really make you think about the story as well as the character).
I have a question that’s not exactly just character related. My WIP is an historical fiction and so I’ve been doing a lot of research on the places in that period, how people lived, what they wore, etc, and I’m wondering how to keep from getting burnt out on it all before I get to really writing the first draft. Being a freshman I sometimes wonder if I didn’t bite off more than I can chew with this story but it won’t leave my head.
Andra M. says
Donna: How about writing your story first, then research to add the specific details of the time period later?
Daan Van der Merwe says
Thank you very much for your opinion.
Feldhan’s book is coming back off the shelf – never thought about it in terms of character development.
Also, does defining characters by personality type (sanguine, choleric, etc) help make them more believable? Or is that just extra work?
I’m loving all the helpful tips – Getty Images, character letter writing. Now I just need to get working!
Al Young, California’s poet laureate, said it’s incumbent upon us as human beings to write from the POV of someone who is very different from us in some way–gender, race, etc. It’s an act of empathy and humanity.