A STORY CANNOT REST ENTIRELY ON PLOT
It didn't take long for me to realise that my group of story-loving eight-year-olds had endless ideas with complicated plot twists, but no concept of characters or a character's journey. If we were writing a book, it had to be held together with something more than a naughty boy, a few pranks, then someone saving the day. Following is what I presented—I think only 15% sunk in, but I'm not giving up.
While discussing the concept of behaviour vs motivation in my writing workshop, I realised most marketers couldn't answer those questions. Fine, we can get a customer into the shop, we can encourage them to buy, we might be able to encourage them to return, but do we truly understand why? What drives behaviour? What is someone trying to accomplish on both a basic human level of survival and one of fulfilment and happiness? These questions weren't to be answered by my writing workshop.
WRITING WORKSHOP 2: CHARACTERS
Characters are the people or animals the story is about. Every story has a protagonist (the main character who faces conflict with another character) and an antagonist (often the ‘bad’ guy who fights with the protagonist).
It’s not enough to name the characters in your story and describe what they look like, you must explain each character’s personality in a way that engages the reader and makes the reader want to learn more. To do this, you must use descriptive and powerful adjectives along with examples.
Let’s start with common personality traits.
Every story includes these types of characters:
- Hero – starts as average person so the reader can identify with him. He has problems to overcome, but he gains wisdom and power to solve his conflicts during the journey, eventually becoming the hero.
- Herald – changes the course of the story, often starting as the hero on his journey. Can be an object or event.
- Mentor – wise presence who guides the hero, giving him advice, teaching him tools to overcome conflict.
- Threshold guardians – they stop the hero on his journey until he proves his worth, like henchmen or gatekeepers.
- Trickster – creates mischief, provides comic relief and are often sidekicks of the hero.
- Shape-shifter – character changes his role in the story. Good becomes bad. Trickster becomes mentor. This character can change more than once.
- Shadow – the main enemy. The evil character. Everything the hero has learned, trained for and overcome leads up the shadow’s defeat.
Much like painting a portrait, a character sketch defines the character’s personality and motivations in a structured way that you can incorporate into your story. It’s a starting point. Remember, the goal is to use powerful descriptions to help the reader understand and care about the character.
- Choose a character. Use someone you know, who is interesting to the reader.
- List the character’s personality traits (good and bad), but focus on the few traits that are most unique and interesting. What does the character look like (age, attractiveness, dress, male or female)?
- Decide how you want to portray the character. Do you want to lead with the character’s personality, appearance or principles? What would make the reader identify with the character and want to learn more?
- Get inside the character’s head to understand their feelings and motivations. What makes the character tick? What does the character value most? What does he fear the most? How does the character feel?
- Don’t think about the plot or other people, focus only on the character. It doesn’t have to be perfect, just write the character sketch using the information you’ve defined in steps 1-4.
- Read the sketch from an outsider’s point-of-view (that means someone who is not inside your brain, extracting all relevant details and filling in holes). Add more details to make the character sketch more interesting.