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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Constructing Character

Without characters, you have no story. It is the characters who should drive and shape the plot, not the other way around. Main characters, secondary characters and tertiary characters are what define a narrative. You can’t mention X-Men without images of the mutants, or Titanic without the star-crossed lovers. A story can happen from any perspective, so it is imperative who you choose to tell your tale.    

I want to briefly mention archetypes or what I call, molded characters. These people are essential a cut out of a personality that has become ingrained in human storytelling. The jokester, the bad boy, the damsel in distress, the imposter, the hero, the villain, the know-it-all, the sidekick—the list goes on. What all these have in common is their lack of depth. They’re flat and uninteresting, nothing more than an underdeveloped outline. In short, they’re boring. However, since all characters begin at this level, you can transform a mold into someone unique and wonderful.

Forming characters might seem like a daunting task, but by building layers of complexity, you can construct a person who comes to life in your writing:

Pick a Mold Type. Choose a Name. Imagine their Appearance. Define Personality. Understand their Motivations. Give them Challenges. Lastly, ensure Development. These steps speak for themselves, but I’ll show you how character construction is done using Neytiri from Avatar.

Mold Type:  Independent Woman
Name: Neytiri
Appearance: A blue-skinned humanoid that stands twice the height of a human. She has a sleek, toned body, cat-like eyes and dark, braided hair. Her figure is somewhat feline with satellite ears and a tail.
Personality: She is a caring teacher, offering her knowledge readily. As a skilled hunter, she is independent, resourceful, clever and cautious. Her reputable position among the People gives her the freedom to speak her mind, which she does curtly and with harsh judgment. She honors her duties, respects others and has the ambition to prove her spirituality.
Motivations: As the next Shaman for her tribe, she soaks up information and etiquette as she strives to fills her mother’s shoes while keeping her tribe safe from outsiders.
Challenges: Presented with a charming human, she must make him one of the People to prove to herself and the tribe that she is a worthy leader and teacher. In addition, forces outside of her control threaten her way of life.
Development: Through teamwork, the pair overcomes the forces of nature and humanity that stand against them. Although she believes she is solely teaching him, he also opens a new world to her by means of friendship and love. Having trusted him, a betrayal and ultimate redemption show her that she truly impacted his life and the life of her tribe.

That may be a rough description of Neytiri, but it shows how you can transform a mold into a character that looks, sounds and feels real. Using these steps, shaping your story’s characters won’t be any trouble at all. Treat this as an outline. Feel free to add or remove details until it functions as a written portrait of your character. As you can see, creating a well-rounded character is fairly simple. Writing them memorably is the challenge.

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