Monday, August 6, 2007

Creating "real" fictitious characters: Part I

Creating "REAL" fictitious characters, Part I: "Identifying With The Audience

Since releasing "Proud Souls" I have been asked many questions relating to my ability to create fictitious characters which appear very "real" and "life-like." As ironic as that might sound, I felt inclined to share a few tidbits of information and methodical rituals I partake in to create my characters.

When creating a new story, I never delve into the task "blindly." That is to say, I always have a general idea of how the story might turn out, but unlike many writers, I'm unclear as to how the story might end. I feel this is important considering we as artists should never limit our creativity. Let's take my story, "Proud Souls" as an example. I began writing the story and originally titled it "the Cabin" and I wrote the initial pages on a trip home from Seymour--the setting to my novel. I wrote approximately 14 pages and 90% of those pages were setting, with no character created. I had idea at the time of the draft if the hero of the story would be male or female and I wrote the setting and drew the initial opening to the story with a clear point-of-view. I did this because I didn't want to limit the story to a particular targeted audience. For instance, most romance writer's write from a female perspective, for females. This is not to say a male could not appreciate the emotion and storyline anymore or less than a woman could, but generally speaking, the greater customer base for romance novels is female.So, when the time came to begin compiling a draft for my story, I had to consider the audience and the make-up of the story, as a male character would have different emotional aspects associated with him as would a female. Now, I did write a female, who played a serious role in the life cycle of my protagonist Justin. Her name was Tessa Jameson. I will use Justin Olerude Bower as my example in this lesson however.

Step1: Identifying With the Audience

The first and most important aspect of drawing (as I like to say) or creating real characters would be creating characters the audience can identify with. I write character driven stories, not plot-based, therefore it was imperative that I create true human form on paper, and almost immediately, if I wanted to keep my audience interested and turning pages. I knew right away I would have to draw on basic human emotions that anyone could identify with, if I was to keep the potential reader interested—and I had to do this right away. Now, for those who have read my story (and I promise not to give too much away), you will notice I put lots and lots of emotions within the first opening chapters, which not only helped establish Justin as a character, but these emotions also helped lay the foundations for the theme to my story. "Proud Souls" is a story of loss and in order for me to establish a change within the character, one that will allow him to grow, I had to first draw the character at one spectrum of the character scale, in order for you to see growth and change later, which in turn helps push the story forward.

When I create characters I focus on emotions that are common to most readers. I have often said, a good fiction writer is one that has tasted the water from the well. You can't write about love, until you have had the courage to love someone more than yourself. You can't write about loss, until you have suffered and you can't appreciate victory, unless you yourself—the author and creator of the story—are daring enough to take up the call and challenges of life. Now, does this mean we should write stories that are targeted to particular audiences? Some experts will say yes, but I say no. To do this means you are restricting your own abilities. The stories I write, are the stories that have come to my heart and mind. But, a key element in any good story, again, is emotion. For instance, we (generally speaking) can all relate to love. In some way or another, even the strongest and boldest of men and women have loved someone or something in their life. So, to draw a character that is passionate about someone or something is easily relatable and the art or trick is to create vivid emotion on paper (that is another lesson). We have all experienced love or hate, sickness and health, financial accomplishment and debt. When I begin creating my characters I make sure to touch the senses, those of touch, taste, smell, sight and sound. For instance, let's say you have a character that is standing on the porch, overlooking some passing cars and watching the rain.

You could easily say, "He was standing on the porch when the rain began to fall, nodding hello to the passing cars. That is simple and easily understood, but another approach might be one that captivates and entices more than one sense—more than just sight. Let's say we tried the same approach but this time wrote instead:

"He was standing on the porch when the rain began to fall, waving at the passing cars. As the storm moved in he closed his eyes and took in a deep breath, appreciating the cleanliness that comes with an evening rain. He smiled, feeling the first drops spray against his forehead."

In that example, we touched on sight (seeing the storm coming & passing cars), smell (cleanliness of the rain) and touch (drops against his forehead). Now, what I see for a character at this point in the story may be completely different from the next reader, but the commonality will be the senses, as we all can remember the feeling of raindrops on our forehead—for some this might remind them of a bad day when they were caught in a storm and for others a childhood memory when they played in the weather as kids. Either way, you have begun to draw on common emotion, and this my friends, is what readers relate to when getting to know a character.

For my part and "Proud Souls", Justin as did Tessa Jameson, both shared numerous emotions common to us all. Justin is a bitter man, with a hardened heart and he seems to wear the memory of the loss of his family around his neck like a heavy chain. Tessa is sensual and in tune with her more sexual side, something many people might relate to. Some of my readers won't identify with Justin, as they themselves have never lost a family member, much less a spouse or child, but they have known moments where life seemed hopeless and all remained loss, and if they substitute Justin's situation for their own, they will soon find the emotions that come with loss are similar, just weighed and measured on a different scale.

Practice this with your characters-in-progress. Review the scenes or opening chapters and ask yourself, despite the individuality of my character, what emotions does he/she have which can relate to my audience? Remember, you don't want to isolate yourself to any particular group of readers, especially if you write fiction. I myself love fiction of all sorts and when I hunt for the next great read, I try to taste water from the various wells along the bookshelf, not remain isolated to one row. You should always keep an open mind and consider not only yourself and your immediate target audience, but the followers of your genre in general. What emotions do we all have in common? What characteristics are common amongst the various nationalities and groups or sects? Try it… I think you will be surprised how much more "real" your fictitious characters become.

~Bobby Ozuna

1 comment:

Jessie O. said...

Fabulous article! I am so glad I am reading your older posts, finally!

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