There is often a debate among writers as to what is more important—story structure or character. The argument rages on, some claiming to begin with plot, others with characters. I’m just another voice in the endless debate of the chicken and the egg. In reality the two tend to feed off each other. But at the end of the day, it is the characters that we take away from a story and remember. If so, you can only imagine how much an author puts into creating a character.
The question I get asked most is, “where do your characters come from? They seem so real. Are they based on real people?”
I draw from real life to create characters. It’s the characteristics and traits from daily encounters with people that stick in my mind. Clearly my characters are a composite of people I meet. However, I always follow the rules. Yes, writing has rules…even lots of rules.
Sympathy Vs. Empathy
The first thing is to remember that a character does not necessarily have to be sympathetic for an audience to want to follow their story. A reader can have other reasons to follow a character, such as empathy.
Empathy means you understand a person's motives while sympathy means you feel sorry for them.
While having an engaging main character is important I always remind myself that I have to develop the other characters in the story as well. Even the villain that is outright evil has to be developed well in order to give a hero a formidable obstacle.
Who Is This Character?
I continually ask questions. It makes it easier to develop the character to be fuller and more engaging. People will find a more fully realized character more believable than a standard archetype or stereotypical hero or villain.
Complexity Vs. Inconsistency
There is a difference between making a character complex and making them inconsistent. Ideally, I’m trying to avoid heroes that are obviously good or villains that are overly melodramatic.
However, I’m always careful. After I’ve established my character I’m not doing anything excessively out of character. A common cliché is to have a character appear to be good and then suddenly reveal them to be evil. A bad twist is worse than telling a straight story well!
With this said, you can be sure that Steve Stone, Leigh’s step father and Dr. Levon will not turn out to be evil at any point during the Pinnacle trilogy.
Is this how you imagined me developing my characters?
I hope you enjoyed this tidbit from my desk.