Writer/director Clive Barker once said with regards to character: “Always try to trip yourself up—look for the places where you’ve done something which was convenient rather than true.” This is no more true than when applied to your characters’ actions.
Keys to Good Character
Ask yourself the following questions:
1. Are the characters in my current draft distinctive? Does each character have her own goals, foibles, mannerisms, and way of speaking that sets her apart from all the others?
2. Do I need all the characters in my story? Have I invented characters to solve plot problems that would otherwise require more ingenuity and hard work to solve? If so, cull them, or combine them into a single character and find better ways to solve story problems.
Remember that most stories revolve around three or four main characters: Protagonist, antagonist, mirror or reflection character and, sometimes, a romance character.
1. Have you established the pivotal emotions and values that exist in your story-world from the start?
2. What attitude, emotion, value, and belief changes do your main characters go through? Do these changes occur at the structural nodes of your story (turning points, midpoint, climax)? We refer to such changes as the transformational arc of the character.
3. Is there a strong correlation between your characters’ (especially the protagonist’s) inner and outer journey? In other words, does your protagonist’s action stem from his inner values, beliefs, background, attitude?
4. Are your characters original? If not, think about having them act contrary to reader or audience expectation—though still in keeping with their defining traits. Have your character(s) do something unpredictable at some crucial junction in the story (usually at a structural node).
5. Avoid clichéd characterisation by ensuring that your tale contains unexpected outcomes stemming from pertinent but surprising character actions.
6. Try to establish an enigma around a main character’s actions and maintain it for as long as possible. Provide a satisfying answer by the end of the story as part of the climax or resolution.
The focus of your third draft is on character. Work on making your characters as sharp, true and interesting as possible, using the above tips as an aid.
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