Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Creating Dynamic Characters

No matter what genre you write in, chances are you'll be writing about characters. And you'll probably want to have characters that the reader can identify with, sympathize with, and root for.

It's pretty easy to do. When I'm creating characters, either protags, antags, or supports, I do a mental checklist of the following criteria:

UNIQUE- What makes this person different from anyone else? Why is this hero the ONLY ONE who could be in your story? Include profession, race, gender, age, and brief description.

GOALS- What are your protagonist’s goals? Dreams? Fears? Things they desperately want?

FLAWS- What personal, internal problem will get in the way of the hero reaching his/her goals? Addiction? Illness? Disability? Neuroses?

QUIRKS- What are the strange, bizarre, personal, or human traits this hero possesses? Habits and rituals?

PERSPECTIVE- First person or third person, and why?

SUPPORT- Who are the supporting, returning characters that assist your hero? Friends? Co-workers?

ENEMY- Your villain should have all of these traits as well. Who will make a worthy opponent for your hero?

EXAMPLE- Lt. Jacqueline "Jack" Daniels, Chicago Violent Crimes featured in the novels WHISKEY SOUR & BLOODY MARY, and the EQMMM short stories ON THE ROCKS & WITH A TWIST

UNIQUE- Jack is 46, divorced, unlucky in love but a good cop–she had to be to become a Lieutenant in the male-dominated fraternity of the CPD. Jack has dedicated her life to the Job, but is now at an age where she’s regretting never starting a family.

GOALS- Jack needs to do well in her career; that’s the only time she feels good about herself. But she also realizes, for the first time, that there’s more to life than work, and she wants to broaden her personal life.

FLAWS- Jack has insomnia, due to her fixation with her job. She constantly questions her own actions, wondering if she could have done better. She doesn’t think she’s worthy of love.

QUIRKS- Her insomnia causes her to max out her credit cards watching the late night Home Shopping Network. She worries too much about fashion, and is envious of those who dress better than she does.

PERSPECTIVE- First person for Jack, third person for the villain.

SUPPORT- Overweight partner Det. Herb Benedict, accountant boyfriend Latham Conger, mother Mary Streng, ex-husband Alan Daniels, criminal friend Phineas Troutt, ex-partner PI Harry McGlade, hellspawn cat Mr. Friskers.

ENEMY- In WHISKEY SOUR, a serial killer called The Gingerbread Man is making snuff movies in his basement and wants to make one with Jack. In BLOODY MARY, a maniac is dismembering people and leaving accessories of Jack’s at the crime scenes.

As you can see, Jack isn't perfect. Her problems add a dimension to the stories beyond the conflict which fuels the plot.

How about your characters? I have a worksheet download here if you'd like to try it for yourself.