Monday, October 1, 2012

Building Your Fascinating Characters

 Last time we looked at plot. This time we’ll begin the process of character building.

First, start with a fragment of personality. Add to it until you can visualize a person. Give him a background. Add his attitude. Then pretend you are that character. Imagine how you would react emotionally under various conditions. Draw from your background, from impressions of other people, and from observations of people in similar circumstances.

After you know a bit about the character, give him a name that is unique to him in the story. It can indicate ethnicity as with O’Malley; or age as with Ida, Linda, or Sierra; class as with Reginald Smith vs. Smitty Smith; or maybe an occupation as with Slugger Jones or the Weasel.

To deepen character, write out a bio sheet for him. This may contain brief descriptions of family background, age, appearance, mannerisms, religious persuasion, relationships, education, career, hobbies, and his goals. After that, interview him. Let him have his head and say whatever he wants. You’ll be surprised how he takes over the conversation and reveals things about himself you didn’t know existed.

The following is a character interview for my book Echoes. The subject is a minor character, the popular, handsome, charismatic, 36-year old politician Emilio Cardenas. His grandfather emigrated from a fictional South American country that exports arms and revolution throughout the Americas. And, my goodness. What I learned about him.

Who are you Emilio?
A champion for justice. I work for the little man. The oppressed worker. The so-called immigrant.

How did you get involved in politics?
I was bred to it. My grandfather witnessed the exploitation of the masses in his country, Tierra Dulce. He fought with the communist revolutionaries until the movement was crushed by the regime, and he fled to the United States. Here he worked the fields and witnessed the same oppression as in his homeland. So he demonstrated, boycotted, and marched for justice. He married my grandmother, a descendent of the original land grant holders. This land was ours until the Europeans stole it from us. We will right this wrong. My extended family has mayors, assemblymen, union officials. We are in the media, academia, and Hollywood. I was an assemblyman then state controller. Now I am running for governor.

 Some allege you have some shady characters funding you.
Shady? I assure you, everything I do is perfectly legal. And, I would not accept funding from any illegal source.

Investigative reporter Troy Wasserman alleges you are accepting foreign funding, which is filtered through several organizations, from the president of Tierra Dulce. 
Troy. Well, I can expect that. I have to confess an indiscretion with his wife. I’m not proud of it. I’ve apologized profusely. But I’m afraid Troy is out for revenge. He’ll do anything, say anything to destroy me.

Troy says you are acquainted with the president of Tierra Dulce.  
Yes. While in the Assembly, I engaged in a cultural exchange between our countries. Troy accompanied me on one of my missions.

Are you El Presidente’s agent to promote revolution in the United States?  
This interview is over.


For me, creating believable story characters is the most entertaining part of fiction writing. We’ll continue next time.—Quinn                                           

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