So let's travel back in time (to last week) and recall the journey that lead to perhaps some of the most major character writing breakthroughs...
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It all started when I realized the reason I couldn't figure out what my character was doing and why my character was refusing to cooperate was because I had very little understanding of said character. I knew some basics -she's reckless; she has a very strong sense of justice and morality; she's independent, strong, and confident- but it wasn't enough.
So I took a personality quiz.
I've heard this is a good way to peg down your character's personality but, honestly, I always thought this was a super weird thing to do. What can I say? I was desperate!
The quiz I used is at 16personalities.com, which I chose for two reasons. A few months ago, at a friend's insistence, I took this quiz myself and it was pretty spot on. Also, each personality has an EIGHT PAGE summary, talking about strengths and weakness and how they interact in different relationships. This was immensely helpful. I pegged down some specifics about my character's personality that I was aware of, but not consciously so. I extrapolated enough concrete details from the summary that I have a much better understanding of my character.
Now, not everything was accurate, but I was able to amend the bits that weren't very easily. This is perhaps the most hassle-free character I've ever been able to develop.
My next move, of course, was to concrete my character's flaw.
I really have trouble with these; don't ask me why. The outlining of character sketches has always been a plague to me. It isn't necessarily the knowing of the information it's the act of writing it down in any semblance of order. (In school, I always hated outlining :P)
I headed over to K.M. Weiland's Helping Writers Become Authors intending to revisit her step-by-step process for structuring character arcs. I have a love/hate relationship with this particular blog series of hers. On the one hand, it's absolutely brilliant, bursting with great information, and it's a process that should really, really work. On the other hand, it's never worked for me. The few times I've tried it, it's wound up rather destroying my WIP, mainly due to my outlining inabilities.
Luckily, I got distracted on my way there. I was sharing some links with a writer friend from Weiland's blog and wound up stumbling across How To Be a Gusty Writer: Stay True to Your Characters, an analysis of how fantastically Captain America: Civil War handled the good and the bad qualities of our favorite Marvel characters. My gosh. So much inspiration right here, guys.
At this point, I just started reading tons of Weiland's posts, jumping links to the next one and the next one. This is where I found Captain America's 10-Step Guide to the Likable Hero, which is another irreplaceable resource and -even better!- really, really easy to relate to.
One big issue I have with outlining and plotting are 'structure terms'. Catalyst, intro, beat 1, turning point -they all come across as some lofty mumbo jumbo meant to make writing easier, but they don't jive with the creative part of my brain. They're too technical-sounding and -feeling. When I try to break down my free-flowing, creative process into these bland white boxes marked with static, strict, technical headings, my inspiration and will to write just flees. Terms like this and most organization processes tend to box my mind in. It really sucks.
What I love about Weiland's blog posts is that she generally resorts to more laymen terms -these don't scare my creativity off- and she always illustrates her points and tips with specific, step-by-step examples from movies and/or books.
This leads me to the piece de resistance, the #1 most helpful discovery in recent years.
When I clicked on this article, I expected a little advice on how to make well-rounded characters, but what I got was the absolute solution to one of my biggest challenges as an author: Being Mean To Your Characters.
I have always been the type of writer that doesn't like to torture her characters and doesn't like to watch them make bad decisions or screw up because I don't want to put them through that. I'm a very nice person (most of the time) and sometimes this inability to cause pain or trauma or despair is a really frustrating trait to have as a writer!
Weiland's five-step guide to dynamic characters doesn't just give the strength I need to be mean to my characters; it removes my role from the playing field entirely. She shifts the perspective of this idea completely and suggests that authors don't have to mean to their characters. As she puts it:
Here is the single most important thing to understand about your protagonist’s suffering: He must always be responsible.That's it. Right there. Now I see this necessity of writing from a completely different angle and I'm write there with the 'cruel' authors. After reading this article, I sat down and wrote a page and a half of bad choices my character could make to put her through hardships and now I can't wait to be mean to my characters because I no longer feel guilty or responsible for said hardships.
So there they are. The three key pieces of writing advice that suddenly clarified writing this character.
I hope these resources will help you with your own writing, too.
But don't be shy!
But don't be shy!
What wonderful writing resources do you know?