Sunday, September 20, 2009

Building Character

When I was in the public library a few days ago, I took a look at their shelf-full of books about writing. One that caught my eye was The Plot Thickens: 8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life, by Noah Lukeman (New York, St. Martin's Press, 2002). I brought the book home, and I've been reading it in snatches, between things. I liked the idea of a book about plotting, because I've got a head full of people, but I'm not at all sure what the hell they're doing there. I helped one of them (Marie) start a blog, in the hope that she would reveal her intentions. So far, she's revealed a bit about her character; she has also told some stories about her childhood and about her father, another of the people in my head. Lukeman's book is giving me some great ideas for ways to get to know Marie - and my other characters - better. This is how his second chapter begins:

"A company can only ask a potential employee so much - if they probe into his sexual preferences or religious beliefs, they could get sued. If they probe deeper, into his superstitions or compulsions, they might be considered crazy. The public has made it clear that anything beyond a person's surface information must be kept private.

Paradoxically, when the public picks up a book, this is precisely the information they demand to know.

A writer, unlike a company, has no limitations..."

Lukeman advises putting yourself in the position of potential employer, doctor, teacher, banker, matchmaker, policeman, priest - and looking at your character from all those points of view (and more). He advises looking for inconsistencies in your character's character that make him/her interesting - for instance, your character might be an abuser who sees herself as righteous and sees her victims as deserving of the abuse. Or she might be a beautiful woman who is obsessed with her (mostly imaginary) physical flaws.

I'm thinking seriously of taking some of those online psychological tests everybody talks about, but in character. Do they send the men in the white suits out if you exhibit radically contradictory personality characteristics, use different names, change sexes and ages and backgrounds? Do you remember when I saw that wonderful one-woman play a few months ago, in which the sole actress played - what was it - 24? different parts? I'm beginning to feel as if I have a whole cast in my head, just waiting for a chance to get up on stage and talk.

I'm not sure, but I think this may be a good thing.


AngelMay said... could be the next Eve Black/White/Gray :) And, for a writer, I can't believe that's a bad thing.

Sandra Leigh said...

Heh. I'm sort of hoping to retain some degree of control over the situation - though that may be too much to ask.

John Hayes said...

Really enjoying reading about your process--I think you've come up with some really good & intriguing ideas for working on characters.

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