Saturday, March 3, 2012

Creating a Memorable Character (Part 2 of 3)

In Part 1 we started with a few of the basics in creating memorable characters. In today's post, I'd like to dig deeper.

Let’s focus in on two primary character types: heroes and villains. Here are some ideas to start with, and then from here, spin off and create your own unique character.

       1.       You want a hero:

a.       The bad-boy/dark hero: a character on the wrong side of the law but redeems himself in the eyes of the reader/audience by doing what’s right. The movie Drive stars a character like this, played by Ryan Gosling. Ryan starts to care deeply for his neighbor, a married mother, and when her ex-con husband returns from prison on a fast-track to get right back in the pen, Ryan is motivated to murder as many people as he needs to, to keep his neighbor safe from the crossfire. 
b.      Straight cut hero: a character who from the very beginning acts and stands for what he believes is right—every action no matter how painful, how brilliant or dumb, is because they believe it’s the RIGHT thing to do.
c.       The accidental hero: he’s the underdog, the funny guy, the last minute man—this is the guy that no-one expected to be the hero, fell into the hero role by accident, or without choice.

           2.       You want a villain:

a.       Silent/Ruthless villain: (the psychopath) want to make a really creepy, scary villain? Make him silent. You can’t read his face, you can’t anticipate what he will do.  He is without conscience and there is no understanding what motivates him, he was just born wrong.
b.      The relatable/sad and sorry villain: what motivates him to do what he does is a deep, dark secret so terrible you almost sympathize with them. Or maybe it’s not a secret, it’s just a terrible accident in their life that’s changed them and motivates them to do bad things or act cruelly. They are bullish, cunning, sly, conniving, shrewd, frustrated, irritable, and unmerciful. And because of their past/secret, you feel “sorry” for them.
c.       Unsuspecting villain: this is the everyday, harmless looking character in your story who turns out to be the villain. By all appearances they are absolutely harmless, they are conveniently in enough scenes to hint that they can be a suspect, but the reader can never be sure, or does not guess they are the suspect to begin with.

            3.       Use vivid and unique descriptions to give your hero and villain depth.
a.       I decide to create an unsuspecting villain. He’s clean cut, has great hair, reacts “normal” under tough situations. One thing I want my readers to note about him (to create a hint of suspicion) is his teeth. To the main character, his teeth are a distraction, they look big,  horse-like, and fake. Later I get into the villain’s head and describe how he removes his false teeth, revealing jagged, yellow choppers, that are serrated—meant for tearing apart flesh.
b.      Make your heroes memorable by giving them a flaw—maybe even a major one—they drink heavily, they’re afraid of ___ (fill in the blank), they’re disfigured, they’re brash, they’re awkward in social situations, maybe they’re invisible. Give your hero an Achilles Heel and readers will remember them.

             4.      Be consistent! The one thing you want to ensure is that your characters remain true to themselves. If you’re trying to show “growth” by pushing them to act/react differently in a situation, you need to do so progressively and with convincing reason. 
                     a. For example: my hero is a detective, and a drunk. He has the same ritual every night: goes to a bar, and then goes home and falls asleep with an empty bottle in his hand. He's on a tough case, maybe his last. He drinks to not only forget the accident that killed his family--to forget he even had a happy family--but to forget the faces of all the dead people it was his job to avenge but didn't succeed. This case is different though. There's a chance the victim is still alive--a six year old girl. The little girl's mother pleads for him to do everything he can to find her. I give him a night or two to keep up with his ritual. Until one night, when he hits a dead end in the case. He spends a hellish night fighting with himself; recalling all too painfully how similar the victim and the mother are to his dead wife and daughter. Instead of drinking the night away, he literally battles with himself and the liquor--throws bottles, glasses, anything in a fit of rage and torment. He needs another lead--and time is running out. He grabs his gun and his coat, and storms out of his apartment, and heads back to the office/scene of the crime. As sick as he feels, he forgoes a night bingeing on alcohol (maybe he'll still have a few nips but not over-the-top blackout drunk), and instead refocuses on the case with a renewed vengeance. 
      Stay tuned for Part III where I talk about using body and facial expressions to show your readers mood, character traits, and emotions. This is a great tool, and one I use frequently to add depth to my characters.

      Do you have any tips you can share?  

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  1. Replies
    1. Thanks Michael! :)
      Have a great weekend.


  2. Ooh, great post! Accidental heros and sad villains are my absolute favorite. Hence, I love Severus Snape :) He's kind of both.

    Sarah Allen
    (my creative writing blog)

    1. Great point in that some characters can be bucketed in more than category!
      Thanks Sarah.


  3. This is a very good post! I really like your writing.

    1. Thanks Gina! I checked out your blog as well. Great stuff!


    2. Oh, and I REALLY, really related to your most recent post on Haters. :)


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