View Full Version : Lesson 1 -- The Basics

June 2nd, 2011, 07:10 PM
Hey, ya’ll! Welcome to my online character class, thanks for coming, and please be patient with me, as I will probably have to work out the kinks in my system. J
We’re going to do 8 different lessons, and what I’ll try and do is post on Thursday and Mondays, but it will probably be later at night, because you know, I write during the day.
Here’s the Schedule
Lesson 1 – the Basics. Character and Goal, Motivation, Conflict
Lesson 2 – How to Add dimension To Your Character
Lesson 3 – Descriptions and Markers
Lesson 4 – Free For All
Lesson 5 – First Impressions and the Icebery Theory
Lesson 6 – How to make the Reader Like Your Characters
Lesson 7 – Sterotypes and Secondary characters
Lesson 8 – Character and Plot and Free For all

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Now, on to today’s lesson:
Lesson 1 – The basics of Character.
First of all, there is no correct way to create characters. When we write, we play God with our characters, and there’s no right or wrong way when you’re God. J
That said, there are two golden rules when creating characters.
First, have truth and honesty in your characters. That doesn’t mean that your characters need to be true and honest, but that you have to make them true to who they are. You cannot twist them to suit a plot, a smart character cannot become suddenly stupid, unless the reader understands WHY they are suddenly stupid. A highly trained profession should not suddenly overlook the obvious clue. A woman-hating man cannot give up his loathing for the female persuasion in chapter 2.
The second rule is to love your characters, all of them. Even the villain, especially the villain. We are more careful with the things that we love, and if you cannot fall in love with your characters, then the reader will not, either. For me, I usually have to write about three chapters before I fall in love with my characters. If I haven’t, I know that I need to go back and rework.. And I can usually find one exact spot of dialog or internal narrative or action/reaction that makes me go “ohhh…” It’s sort of an a-ha moment, and I know that I always need to have that a-ha moment, or else the character is going to turn out flat.
Now, enough with rules. When you think about your characters, understand that character is not what your character looks like or their family history. That’s all characterization. Sort of the encyclopedia brittanica of your character. But the *character* of that person is what he does, and (this is from the book Story, by Robert McKee) even more, a character is what he *means* to do. That last part is important to me, because if you start in Chapter 1 with a character who recognizes who he or she wants to be then the reader will be rooting for them to make that change. Say you have a heroine who has a history of bad relationships, and maybe she wants to learn from the mistakes of her past, and then she meets the hero, and on the surface, he is SO WRONG for her, and she knows it, and she doesn’t want to make another relationship mistake and fall for the wrong guy. Now, we have conflict, (she can’t be with this guy until she realizes that he’s not the wrong guy). We have character growth because the arc is that she isn’t going to make a mistake this time, because by the end of the story, we know that he’s not the wrong guy and best of all, so does the heroine.
I don’t know if all of you are familiar with Goal Motivation Conflict (GMC), but it’s really the guts of your story. Each character needs to have a goal. Sometimes the goals are easy to understand (I don’t want to die), and sometimes they are more complicated. The *complicated* part is the motivation part. That’s where you (the author) has to show the reason why this character has this particular goal. Sometimes this is backstory, a traumatic event in the past. Sometimes it’s family history. In my books, I love to include the family and/or references to the family because you can get so much character meat from a scene with family, or even just a scene thinking about family.
Drive is how much your character wants that goal. It’s REALLY important to have a character who wants that goal. The more they want it, the more the reader will get involved. If your character is apathetic about reaching their goal, or has an opportunity to achieve their goal in chapter 2 but then turns it down because of REALLY BAD PLOTTING on the author’s part, then the reader isn’t going to care about it either. And that’s a book that gets put down.
As for conflict, I’m going to talk more about internal conflict than external conflict, because frankly, internal conflict is a lot juicier to me. Suzanne Brockmann has this great talk that she used to do, talking about a characters ‘values’. These are things like security, family, love, religion, violence, power, honesty, etc. These can shift or better yet, conflict one against the other. Now, you can’t make this easy. The harder it is on the character, and the tougher the choices, the more the reader is going to salivate. Say for example you have a lady who is very honest. She comes from a long-line of honest people (say the Quakers) or even better, she comes from a long line of DISHONEST people (say the Gambinos). And she’s determined to be better than that. She doesn’t lie, she doesn’t cheat, she doesn’t steal. But then, say, she saw something bad (her brother killing someone) and the police want her to testify, but she’s going to have to go into Witness Protection and start all over. Now this is all sorts of messy. No, she doesn’t love her family, but to turn on her brother? But okay, she’s going to do it because she is *above all that*. But then, once it’s done, and she’s in the witness protection program, she has a new identity, a new name, a new past, and she has to LIE TO EVERYONE every day. It is going to kill her, either emotionally or literally. This is how you put internal values in conflict with each other.
Okay, so that’s all for today’s lessons. Feel free to ask any question you’d like, or just make any comments you want. The great thing about character stuff is that the more you talk about it, and the more you analyze your characters, the more interesting they get.

June 2nd, 2011, 10:02 PM
I had never really thought about the distinction between 'character' and 'characterization,' but it makes sense and feels a lot more orderly because I can separate them into two categories, each with their own list.

June 2nd, 2011, 10:09 PM
So, just to clarify: My Characterization list would be the physical attributes, while the character's Character is essentially GMC. Family History, though, could or would include both Characterization and Character.

June 3rd, 2011, 08:44 AM

I think character is more active. It's the choices the hero or heroine make during the book. IMHO, character is not a *list* or attributes or specific actions, more about when faced with a choice between something like family or pride, our hero chooses pride. And also note, that those choices are fluid. In some cases, maybe the hero would choose family, and in other cases, he might choose pride. It's that unreliability in the character's decisions that make for suspense. So that the reader actually won't know what he will do, they only know that it will be a tough decision.:tank:

June 4th, 2011, 11:19 AM
Thanks, Kathleen. I guess I'm psycho analyzing or trying to make a clear distinction as to the Why and How a character would act. And in this sense, Character ties in with the GMC and Family History, as well as to the Characterization list, so that resulting actions are logical. Or at least logical in the Character's mind. (thinking villains here) So I can understand that Character is more active.

There's a fluidity of movement in Character, but depending on how strong the desire for the Goal or the Motivation behind it depends a lot on the Characterization 'list,' for want of a better word. The Conflict, along with the How of a Character's reaction to the Conflict, make the story interesting. I think.

June 6th, 2011, 09:28 AM

Conflict is the heart of what drives the story, and you also have to be careful that your character is in the driver's seat, and not being acted upon. They have to have action and drive plot. Sometimes that action is maintaining the status quo or protecting what they have, but when some action threatens the status quo, your character will have to *do something* or in order to maintain it.

As for actions being logical, exactly. If a character has a weird quirk (i.e. Indiana Jones being afraid of snakes), you have to set it up ahead of time so that when the reader gets there, they might not know *how* the character will react (boring if they know), but they do know the character *will* react.

Hope that makes sense.

June 11th, 2011, 03:13 PM
Thanks, Kathleen, it does.

June 17th, 2011, 11:31 PM
Kathlene: I have a character that is strong, sexy and smart but she is spoiled rotten by her father and 6 brothers because she is the youngest and only girl. She is rather self-absorbed. Whenever I attempt to portray this I get asked how old she is or comments about her seeming childlish. How can I portray her character flaw so that its clearer to the reader. The opening line in the story is "Are we there yet?" so I tried to amend by having the father say, "be patient youre not 10 yrs old"-- but I am having trouble establishing that she is 22.I want her to be clever and smart but have some child-like qualities that appeal to the hero who feels himself dark. I intend to show her growth as part of her arc. Any suggestions.?

June 18th, 2011, 12:59 PM

I'm about to post the "first impressions" lesson, and I think this is what you're running into. The absolute first impression that your reader gets of your heroine is "Are we there yet?" Right with that line, you're cementing the child-like impression that the reader gets. I don't think that you can unring that bell. My honest opinion is to start somewhere else, establish either the smart or strong character first, and then work in the child-like aspects and the reader will see them as endearing, rather than annoying.

It's like the Indiana Jones syndrome. If the movie had started with Dr. Jones in the classroom, we would have never bought the adventurer, but Spielberg started with the reverse and then the professor aspect only makes him multi-dimensional and interesting.

First impressions are HUGE with readers. If you start off with an unlikeable heroine (readers are more forgiving with heroes), a lot of readers will put away the book right there.

Let me know what you think...

June 18th, 2011, 02:42 PM
Thanks Kathleen. I think you've hit he nail on the head. I wrote an action scene with her jumping from the battlements first. Then went back and wrote the beginning. So first impression didn't clue into me but to the reader who doesn't know what I wrote first, they see the whinny, spoiled kid. There it was right under my nose--thank-you for for showing me. Thank-you, oh wise writer guru. I'm learning. Doreen:pinkjump:

June 21st, 2011, 02:11 PM
Glad to be of service, Doreen!