I don’t blog often.
Characters can be fascinating. They can be disappointing. A character can be anything that a human can be, and more, if written well.
But what is a human?
Is it requirement for fictional characters to mirror and reflect humans? Are there characters who deny and contradict humans? I would say so, yes, that you could find characters that fit these categories in any book, any genre, any conscious writing.
How we react to characters, how we bond, how we respond, relates a lot to how we perceive ourselves. For as long as fiction has existed, humans have developed images of different kinds of characters (archetypes) that influence their perspective on reality.
In many circumstances, modern humans have been strongly influenced by fictional characters in how to behave, speak, feel, and even think. As authors try to constrain characters to mimic present living beings, they tend to forget that many of those living beings have already constrained themselves to suit whatever characters have been presented in their individual understanding of the world… and so, the cycle goes on.
But contemplation aside, let’s say that a common goal for an author is to create characters that are realistic. As can be seen through the set-aside contemplation, what is realistic to character is going to be subjective based on human perceptions… but there are a few truths that can be carried from observations of living humans to fictional characters.
These truths can be distilled to create depth of character and they are…
1. Most, if not all, are motivated by a conceptual something (whether truth, or love, or sorrow, something that is a mental concept). Allured by this core value, unconsciously or not, the tiniest action they take in daily life is a ripple from that initial motivation.
2. We all have Variations of Consciousness and Awareness (some people are more aware than others, some are less conscious than others, some have mixtures of aware subconsciousnesses or unaware consciousnesses, etc. and so on).
3. We get Confused (sometimes, very deeply confused which can muddy awareness of a character’s motivation). Allow characters to be confused, since confusion is deeply human.
4. We cannot Know much about the world we exist in (true knowledge comes from direct experience, and as it is right now, the norm is to not experience everything we claim as knowledge, we also have a lot of blank spots in contemporary knowledge). But this inability to truly know without direct experience means that our knowledge of the world can be dramatically pivoted from something as simple as a single, direct experience.
5. Despite being aware of #4, we are a highly Suggestible species. Whether motivated by pride, ignorance, or inherent nature, humans are continually persuaded of this and that without direct experience and awareness of the knowledge they are persuaded of. An in-depth, realistic character should never be completely immune to suggestion and persuasion of all kinds, it is impossible – there is always something that will change the conscious mind, whether it be an experience of all five senses or simply reading an article – we are suggestible enough that it takes a single experience to change our entire outlook on life and existence. As an author, I feel if I understand what pivot points have existed and will exist for my characters and I know how my characters feel about them in a meta-way as well, then I may claim I know a character.
6. We, especially our civilizations, struggle with the concept of Significance. Many ceremonies, religions, systems of power, monument, societal undertakings have a direct connection to human’s continual search for significance of themselves in the world. Or as others might phrase it, a continual denial of the individual’s glaring insignificance. (related to discussions revolving around concepts of mortality, but not the same).
There are many more observations of humanity, but those are a few that come to mind.
Given all this, isn’t it interesting how much we, as a collective readership/consuming audience, enjoy violence?
Blood, gore, dark, deep, despair – or if not sadism, then the opposite; an extreme aversion to acknowledging these things exist daily, steadily, on and on within humanity.
These two extremes create an illusion of duality. It is through the breaking of this duality, and others similar to it, in which Real characters are formed.
All characters who operate from such duality are Unreal. Both types of characters have their place in different literary experiments… but that this distinction can be made is a fabricated meta-duality (Real/Unreal), so, stay aware of paradigms, what you’re using to categorize thoughts – don’t start blurring lines between fiction and reality.
Characters are a Strongest Aspect of why I was allured to fictional writing – the world creation, novel building, character developing. I absolutely adore characters – snapshots of consciousnesses – they are precious and grand. And the best characters, to me, are the ones that have deep wells of consciousness. How diverse, the cast of life, so varied, are each the players!
This is what I strive for when I develop characters – and I develop characters in a number of different ways. I haven’t picked a favorite way, yet, because I like variety right now.
When I choose to focus on a character, I seek to know them.
Now, there are a lot, a lot, a lot of worksheets, fill-in-the-blank character generators, article path frameworks to build on Characters… From time to time, I play with them, but only on a whim, and never seriously. It’s not that I can’t fill them out, I could – and I have at times, in the past – but they aren’t a major part of my process.
Instead, I observe the character – living, reacting, moving about – I contemplate the character’s energy and I wonder why they feel the way they do, why it’s seen the way it is, who would see them how, how would that influence the character, what does the character think of this – and sometimes I employ the technique of allowing the character to talk in scenes, to try and hear their dialogue – I allow them to become alive for a short period of time.
In that time, when I’m learning about this character, I fully allow myself to believe they exist. That we’re separated, and I’m just trying to remember for them, but they exist just as much as I do, elsewhere, in another realm. I allow this for a few minutes, as a creative exercise, to see what the character says, what they choose to do, how my mind deciphers it and perceives this. Sometimes I write it down, but usually I don’t.
It happens very quickly, in a flash. And then, I can revisit this flash memory, when I need to figure out how a character would make a decision in the moment of writing. For some characters, this is harder to successfully pull off, but I do my best to manage.
Notes are, also, extremely useful for my writing. I enjoy the process and act of inscribing, transcribing with different sorts of pens, inks, papers, journals, pencils, markers – the beauty and creativity of it all, I enjoy it.
When I wish to develop a character… for instance, in one of my projects, there is a strong core cast of eight-ten characters that exist in an elaborate fantasy world on a different planet. For each of these characters, I seek to develop my understanding of their pasts, personalities, choices, spirits, energies, what drives them, what they strive for, what they fear, what they dream at night, what they see in their nightmares, who they hear whisper in their ear when they start to go crazy, which emotion they go towards – do they cry uncontrollably? do they break into a rage? – what is their dirtiest, nastiest secret? – what would they want no one to ever find out about them? – how would a Higher Being at Something Akin to the Golden Gates judge them as their life played before the audience of All?
I seek answers to these questions in the form of memories, memories that the characters have themselves. It is as simple as lying down, closing your eyes and meditating upon that character’s energy and all they have seen, felt, known, wanted, avoided, and in this particular world, circumstance – how did they act? were they justified? what is justified in this world?
The memories, visualizations of these characters in their own worlds, are necessary to my process because they remind me of all the senses – they keep me in the understanding of the vibrancy of life, that things are not as simple as writing the word ‘shy’ next to the word ‘traits’.
Anyways, I’m off to catch up with Vicious (Ian Mckellen, mmk), Penny Dreadful finale (that show is pretty okay, better than True Blood though).
– Dominika (July 1)
TL-DR; To make Characters realistic, pretend they are Real People and make a mental/visualization inventory of their lives, feelings, dreams, etc. Do worksheets for fun, but don’t forget the memories and the energy that fuels those traits and words that come to describe this Character. Be aware of duality when it arises and strive for multidimensional Characters.