Making your Characters Talk

Hello again, everyone!  If you’re just catching up with me, I’m blogging about the process of writing my new graphic novel, “Doc Monster in Shadow of the Skies!”

In this part, I’d like to talk about building characters; specifically, how to determine the driving force behind the character’s motivations in your story.  Once again, I’m working my way through “Writing Fiction for Dummies“, which is an excellent resource.

The first thing to do in getting to know your main characters and what they are doing in your book is to develop their Backstory, which is what you know about the character.  When were they born?  Where?  How old are they?  What was their first memory?  What was their school experience like?  When did they first fall in love?  All of that stuff.  Just write as quickly as you can….it’s the process of thinking about the character and their experiences that counts.  Remember: it’s experience that is going to draw your readers into your story!  Writing a backstory will give you an idea of what sort of experiences the character has had and how they helped shape what happens in your story.  All major characters should have a Backstory.

The next thing to do is to find the core drives of the character.  What really makes the character act and react in your story.  These basically define WHAT your character is doing in your book…why they are involved in the first place.

We do this by finding out a character’s Values, Ambitions and Goals.

Values are what the character holds dear….things that are more important than anything else…what they believe.  A character can and should have more than one value.  If you can make the character have conflicting values, all the better.  For instance, Darth Vader might have the value “Nothing is more important that power” and “Nothing is more important than my son”.  Do you see that Darth would have been a pretty boring guy if he only had one of those values?  That cool scene in “Return of the Jedi” would never have happened unless he had both.

Ambitions are broad desires the character has.  Frodo might have “Save the Shire!”  Gollum might have “Possess the Ring!”  “World Peace” is also a good ambition.  They’re fuzzy things…large goals that the character wants to achieve.  Each character should only have ONE ambition…one thing they are trying to achieve in the story…it’s just simpler that way.  Of course, Ambitions should spring from Values.  If your character has the Value of “Wealth”, then the ambition of “getting rich” is a solid one.

Goals are how your character intends to achieve their Ambition.  The concrete plans of making them happen.  This is where the rubber of their personal drives meet that road of your story.  Heck, this is the REASON they’re in your story to start with, and could quite possibly be what the story is about.  Frodo wants to “Save the Shire!” by “Throwing the One Ring into the Cracks of Doom!”  Since you have one ambition, your character should only have one (conscious) goal.

Sometimes, you’re lucky, and the Values, Ambitions and Goals for your character are easy to find.  Other times, however, you just aren’t sure what they are.  Oh, but you NEED to know, my friend.  Have you ever read a book review where the reader said “I was never really sure why that character was in the book”?  DON’T let that happen to YOUR characters!  Find our their reasons for being there.

One way of finding out what’s going on with your characters is to interview them.  I know, it sounds weird, but start writing down questions for them about what they are doing and why.  As you write down their response to your questions, you will uncover their core drives.  Keep after them…don’t give them any slack.  Ask why they are doing a particular thing, or why they feel a certain way.  When they get to the point (and they’re usually pissed off at this point) where the say “I don’t know….I just do!!”, then you’ve probably hit one of their Values.  Keep working at it until you uncover their Ambitions and finally Goals.

I did all of the above with Doc Monster, so I know it takes some work.  Heck, the interview itself was a twisty process that took three typed pages.  But at the end, I knew more about him than I started with, and knowing the characters is what gives you the ability to write them into situations without effort.  You don’t have to think “What would Doc do when the army general criticizes him?”  You KNOW he’d pick him up and throw him, with his chair, out the window.

The really cool thing is that when you really know the characters and what drives them, they’ll start writing the story FOR you.  Very often, they’ll start heading off and doing things that you didn’t expect.

And THAT is when you’ll have a character-driven story worth reading!

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So, if you’re reading this, and it’s not yet November 21st, you still have time to buy one of my cool, new posters AND get a free piece of artwork in the bargain!  How often does a deal like that come around, eh?

See you next time!
-Dave

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