Monday, May 28, 2007

A Matter of Character-Part I

When I read novels, I'm all about the characters. I'm simply fascinated to read about other peoples lives and delve into what makes them tick - even if those people are completely imaginary. It's the characters in a book that keep me reading avidly, just to see what happens to them. So as I dabble around with writing fiction, naturally I'm interested in what it takes to make characters believable and interesting, and mostly, how to infuse them with the spirit that makes them come alive in the readers mind.

I've been reading and working through the exercises in the Gotham Writer's Workshop Guide to Writing Fiction. In an article entitled Character: Casting Shadow, Brandi Reissenweber defines the elements involved in creating characters. First, they must have a "burning desire." They have to want something, whether it's something major, like the lead in a Broadway production, or something seemingly less earth shaking, such as learning to make a killer chocolate souffle. This is the desire that will motivate their actions throughout the story, and from which the story line itself will develop.

**my main character is a middle aged woman, once an aspiring opera singer whose career never really took off. she now teaches voice to college students, and her prize pupil, Ashleigh, is a young blind woman whom she is grooming for the stage. her "burning desire" is for this young woman to succeed where she did not - in effect, to "make it" for her.

Characters have to be complex, neither a complete goody two shoes, nor a total dastardly villian. No matter how bad or good someone is, there must always be an element of an opposing characteristic, which will become evident in some way during the pursuit of their desire.

**my character, let's call her Diana Lee, is the model of dignity and decorum in her teaching and her dealing with the public. she is warm, intelligent, vivacious, yet can sometimes be outspoken and a bit of a prima donna. the real contrast in her character becomes evident in her relationship with her invalid mother, whom she cares for, and with whom she is impatient and occasionally cruel.

Every character must have the ability to change, and their potential for change is often the culminating point of the story. The reader doesn't always have to see the change come to fruition, but must be aware that the possibility exists, and that the character recognizes their capability for change.

**Diana Lee will realize she must let go of her dream for Ashleigh when the young woman decides to pursue a career as a teacher herself, and not a performer. At this point, Diana will come to terms with the disappointments in her own life and accept herself as she is. She will also develop a better relationship with her mother, as she comes to understand the ways in which her mother's dreams were not realized as she had hoped.

Where do characters come from, and how do you get to know them inside and out? I'll let you know when I finish reading the chapter!


Julie said...

This is fascinating. I love how you've shared not only what the book puts forth as the guideline, but the way you are using this in your own story; in effect, illustrating it for us. I do hope you'll share the remainder once you've finished the chapter.

This sounds like a very interesting book.

Julie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.