Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Give Your Character the Edge

Creating Edgy Characters?

Let’s change “edgy” to “interesting” or “complicated.” Last week the post was about making writing a bit more edgy by giving at least one character in the story a bigger than life persona. I used the character of Hawkeye Pierce from M.A.S.H. as my example.

I like the idea of giving my character habits such as a twitch or perhaps a signature way of saying or doing something. If you think back to the Hawkeye Pierce example, you may recall Pierce always sniffs the food on his fork before taking a bite. When he doesn’t want to do something he shakes his head and waves his hand and says, “Oh, no, no, no, no, no…you’re not going to get me to …[whatever was asked].”

Quirks like sniffing his bite of food add to his character personality. It may be a bit of an obsessive-compulsive personality, but personality all the same. His typical initial response to what he deems an unreasonable request allows the audience to anticipate his response. We know him. And he delivers. He usually adds a wry comment or throws a zinger at Frank, Margaret, or later on, Charles. We know him and we love him for it.

I took some time this week to explore building my characters. Most of my attention was given to my main character, “Dottie.” By the way, I haven’t settled on her name yet. When I started the story I used a place holder of  five or six dots (……) instead of a name. A few paragraphs in, I replaced the “dots” with “Dottie.” It’s still merely a placeholder until I decide what to call her.

What do I know about her? I know she is in her fifties. She is a widow. Her husband died over four years ago. She has two adult married children and three grandsons. I know she had been living the last four years in a fog.

A good story often has a main character change over the course of chapters. My character needs to change. She has been letting life roll by her…or maybe over her. She is timid…even fearful. She doesn’t trust herself to make decisions. She feels she has lost purpose in life. She doesn’t feel needed. Or wanted. Or loved. By the end of the story, I want her to change. I want to revive in her a sense of purpose. I want her to return to being a vibrant, happy person.

I can tell you all about Dottie but I want to show you who she is and who she becomes. I’ve spent the week exploring Dottie. What mannerisms does she embrace that show who she is and what she thinks of herself?

What quirks does she exhibit that show her personality? Especially that “old self” she used to know so well?

What events will effect the transformation I want her to have? Will some of those come from within? What external events will cause her to change?

And finally, what will show that change in her? Will she be the only one to recognize it? Will she return to her “old self” or reinvent herself?

I don’t want to rely on a plot to make the story edgy. I want Dottie to be a bit edgy herself. I want her to have one foot on solid ground and one foot ready to move forward.

What do you think? Do you know any “Dotties” out there?

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