Week Three: Creating Your Characters, Steampunk Style!!
So we all know what makes good characters, right? Think about it. Who are your favorites? And why? Is it because you can relate to them? Are they the classic underdog, and you're pulling for them to come through? Take a minute to write down your thoughts, then as you read this post consider how you can incorporate your favorite characters into your own.
Characters in Setting
When I'm creating a character, I think of several aspects. First, the world they are going to be a part of. For this class on steampunk, I'm going to focus on the Victorian world. If you've done your research or watched any movies set in the Victorian Age, you know their world was vastly different than ours today. Attitudes towards everything from dress to social standing were very prevalant.
These attitudes need to come through in your characters. How will they interact in a world where technology and steam is king? Will they be interested, or will they yearn for a more peaceful time? Also, and most important, how will your character react to the conflict you are plopping them in the middle of?
This little piece of literature - language - is actually the most important piece of the puzzle for your steampunk story. It is the way your characters speak, and think, that creates the world for your reader. Language can pull a reader in, or turn them off of your story all together.
Think about it. One of the main complaints against Shakespeare (seriously, I've heard this before) is his language. Kids today can't understand what he's trying to say, or perhaps, they don't want to. Consider this. Your language needs to fit the time period, true. But it needs to be clear and precise. Don't just throw in words to increase your word count! Trust me...editors don't like it.
Pick up a Victorian Age novel, a classic preferably, and study the language used. Then, apply this to your steampunk story. Remember: your characters must be believable for your readers to believe your story. Language goes a long, long way to making this happen.
Gail and I just taught a class in Asheville, North Carolina, and one of the major points which came up was how much detail should you put in your characters' appearances? The gowns! The men's shirtwaists and suits! Then there is that fabulous steampunk jewelry....:: happy sigh ::
Stop here and now. It's great to go into detail when you're doing your research or creating a character sketch. But in your story, these little nuisances just bog down your story. So make brief mentions thoughout your tale, but don't focus on each hair piece or fringe lining.
The easiest way to do this is to have your character interact with the outfit. Or their hair. Women carried parasols, right? If they are outside and walking, have your female twirl hers. Or grasp tightly to it. As for the men, they had canes. How can you use this prop in your story?
While I'm using this example for character creation, there are two points in the paragraphs above which are crucial. The first? Don't bog down your story with details. We live in a fast paced modern world where if your reader gets bored, they are going to stop reading and cast your brilliant work aside. Keep their attention with action and interaction, not details.
The second is to do your research for the time period you are writing for. Victorians didn't wear their hats indoors, or their gloves to dinner. And their lives were lived by a very strict social code. So do your research, learn the code for the time period you are writing for, and run with it.
We all have our belief systems. And your characters will be no different. The question becomes: what will their belief system be in your steampunk universe, and how will that effect them?
Let's say your protagonist is a brilliant scientist who feels that steam science is the way to go. But the antagonist believes in the gods of old. Instant conflict, yes. But what happens when the events of your story make the protagonist question his belief in steam science? Will he crumble? Or fight harder to hold onto his convictions?
Questions such as these must be answered to create a good story. Yes, plot is very important, and setting will help you create your world. But without good characters that your readers can relate to, your story will go nowhere fast. That's how important characters are. Take them to the extremes. Make your readers either love them, or hate them and they'll come back every time....
Assignment Week Three:
Create two character sketches answering the classic questions who, what, when, where, and (I'm changing this one up) beliefs. These characters will be used in your assignment for next week, so be as detailed as possible now so you know who you're dealing with.
Sex doesn't matter. Nor does race, profession, etc. Just make sure they are steampunk, in a steampunk world. When you're finished, post them below.