Characters with… character. Part 3 of 3

We’re moving into the final lap of this character creation exercise. In case you missed the first two parts you can find them here and here. If you’ve been scribbling stuff down about your character, then this process will have been useful. If not, shame on you! Go quiver in the dark somewhere as the dreaded writing demons will surely be visiting you soon.

Eternity face CUYou’re scaring me!  Of course, because fright is good. It’s an amazingly effective element that can lay on your desk like a cattle prod, ready for use whenever you need to make life hell for your character. And never forget, that’s your job! What am I talking about? The one thing your player fears the most; the one thing they want to avoid at all costs: Disease. Pain. Loneliness. Sharks. Being trapped in an elevator. Crying babies. Anything! It doesn’t matter what it is. It’s yours; you can trot it out whenever you feel like it, or whenever things are just going too well for your protagonist. That’s the best time to administer a dose of pure, awful, meanness. [Cue evil laughter.] Don’t forget to add that fear to your notes!

What’s next? It’s time for a sketch (not a portrait).  When it comes to character descriptions, I’m firmly in the less-is-more camp. More often than not, physical characteristics aren’t important, and can even be distancing since many readers enjoy seeing themselves in the role of the folks they’re reading about. Unless you’re writing porn (hopefully under a pseudonym), there’s no need to go overboard detailing hair and eye color, height, weight, bra size or genital proportions.

Instead, write a description under 100 words. Remember the logline we started with: 140 characters or less. Don’t try to paint a word portrait; go for a quick sensory sketch. He’s 20785837_ml-txtthat dumpy poser who thinks he’s Swiss but smells like Limburger, or, she’s that emaciated teen who equates vamp with glam.

What you’re striving for is a short, evocative word blitz. Your best bet is to ignore the tired and typical and go for the bizarre and unusual. Those are the characters readers remember. Make them interesting to look at — and think about. Give them aspects, visual and otherwise, that others would find strange, dangerous, or even off-putting. Therein lies the fun. Don’t put it off; do it now. (Don’t fool around. There’s still time for me to dispatch the demons. I’m not kidding.)

Wphew. Now that you’ve got a tentative hold on your shiny new character, it’s time to see if he or she is really what you’re looking for. It’s time for a screen-test.

So, right now, sit down and write some flash fiction starring your newly revamped player. Get inside their soft and squishy gray matter. Run ’em through the grinder; force them into tough situations; toss in odd characters and expose them to their fears. See how they react, but more importantly, see how YOU react. Did they reveal something new? Do they live up to your expectations? Too bold? Too bland? Do you need to shape that wad of clay a little more? Here’s where you can find out, and possibly generate useable new material, too. Save what you write, it could come in handy later.

building-the-great-pyramid-txtBack to the top. Now it’s time to go back and rewrite the logline. Why? Because more than likely this process has changed something about your character, and updating the logline now will help you lock in the updates. Just as important, the logline rewrite is good exercise. If you’re writing a novel, you’ll have to do a great deal of revision, shaping, clarifying, modifying, motivating and improving every aspect of your work. Better start getting used to it now.

If you’re feeling really motivated, post your updated logline in the comment section below. I’d love to see what you come up with.


About joshlangston

Grateful and well-loved husband, happy grandparent, novelist, editor, and teacher. My life plate is full, and I couldn't be happier. Anything else I might add would be anticlimactic. Cheers!
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