Monday, July 15, 2013

Character Sketch Part 2: Organic Characters

A Knight At the Crossroads - Viktor Vasnetsov

Creating characters is not all about archetypes though. Archetypes form the foundation by providing an interesting character but they won't help you when it comes to developing them. And most characters, with the exception of some minor ones, need development. Which bring up the question, since we have the foundation for writing characters, how do we develop them? 

Now here comes the part that requires empathy. To really write a character well, you have to get inside their head. This can be a real challenge, especially if said character is very different in personality from the author themselves. This is why it really takes intellectual discipline to develop a realistic character.
Empathy is not easy, and does not come naturally to all of us, and it doesn't come to all of us when we want it. What a lot don't realize it is that Empathy, to a certain extent is something that we can control, especially when we use it in writing. The advantage to writing, as opposed to other situations which require empathy, is that in writing we get as much time to empathize with the characters as we wish.

There's not real way around it. Developing your character and empathizing with them is work. Just remember, always concentrate on how the character thinks. Don't get distracted by their appearance, their sex, or their backstory. Though these can tell us something about the character none of them really tell us enough.

On a final note, if you have difficulty putting yourself in a character's shoes, one trick is to think first on your own thought stream, then imagine how your own character's thought stream would be different. This will give you a reference model to help you empathize. And that's the whole core of character building. Getting to know your own characters. 

1 comment:

  1. I completely agree! Empathy is vital to writing.
    Another way to create good characters is to observe the way real people around you behave. Notice everything: quirks, habits, good qualities, flaws, and perhaps most importantly, how they react their emotions (by which I do NOT mean stalk, I just mean notice while you happen to be in the same room).
    As you get to know people, look at how their characters develop. This will give you a feel for how people actually work, and when you go to create new ones, they will have that tang of realism so many lack.
    It is also okay to pilfer quirks from people you know. Every good character has quirks, and it isn't as if your friends have copyrighted their attributes.