Friday, February 13, 2009

Writing Lessons: Character, Part 3

Characterization is only half done until you’ve breathed spirit, soul into your character. Characters must have an interior life: desires, dreams, needs, fears.

What does your character desire? Love? Money? Friendship? Revenge? What does your character dream about? What dreams are repressed? What nightmares wake him? What does your character truly need? Freedom from self-doubt? Kindness?

Until you understand the emotional, inner life of the character, you aren’t quite ready to write a successful plot. That’s not to say, that as you write, you won’t learn more about your characters (indeed your characters may even change!) But knowing what a character needs/desires/wants is critical to that character making choices. Choices are what will fuel your plot.

Think of your character—their ID life—what they would do, if you stripped away their ego and superego. Think about their inner/uninhibited child. Write about the character’s desires using a strong, first person “I”:
I want______________________________

I need______________________________

I fear______________________________

I dream_____________________________
Desires/dreams/needs can and do overlap. But characters can also desire and dream about one thing only to discover they need something else. For example, a character dreams of being a musician but needs cocaine. Or an abused character may believe they have no desires, that they are “a speck of nothing,” only to discover they need to dream in order to survive.

Desires/dreams/needs give your characters depth and complexity. Your character’s interior life will shape her motivations and how she might respond to choices and crises within your story.