Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Character Study


I am a perpetual student--always learning. I take online classes. I read books on writing. I attend workshops. Using all that information--packed into the tiny crevasses of my brain--I love to analyze books. Umm, not the plot structure (makes my head hurt!) or sentence structure (because no, parsing sentences is not my forte). I don’t do grids or Hero’s Journey outlines. But I do examine why a novel does or doesn’t work for me.

And before I go further, I’m talking about fiction–primarily romance or mystery. I love the payoff. I want a happy ending where the girl gets the boy, the hero(ine) gets the villain, or even better both occur.

A novel’s strength (for me) comes down to character. In my opinion, character is the single most important element the writer should labor over. Because without a memorable character–someone who makes us root for them, bleed for them, and even condone behavior that goes against our moral code–the story, the plot, the setting, the theme becomes unimportant.

Great characters are the key to great fiction. A high-octane plot is nothing without credible, larger-than-life highly developed en-actors to make it meaningful. Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass.

The best novels marry both intricate and deep character with a plot that will bring them the most heartache yet ultimately the most satisfaction. And when the character triumphs and vanquishes their enemy or overcomes seemingly insurmountable obstacles to true love--the reader is rewarded richly.

True Character can only be expressed through choice in dilemma. How the person chooses to act under pressure is who he is-the greater the pressure, the truer and deeper the choice to character. Story by Robert McKee (this is a brilliant book–to be read over the course of months because there is so much material to absorb)

Human beings are flawed. I doubt there are many people out there who would say they are perfect. I absolutely doubt there is anyone who would not change one single thing about their personality (and if you find one, they are lying! :) )

Most people want to be a higher form of themselves (and no I’m not talking about being skinnier or richer). They want to be more honorable, more generous, more kind, more forgiving, more honest, more heroic...more something.

Through works of fiction we get to experience that higher form of ourselves, making choices, performing sacrifices which will have a profound impact, without the fear of actually making the wrong decision and screwing things up. The author has already worked out the perfect course of action to make that ending the best and most creative and most rewarding for the character and ultimately for us, the reader.

Lisa

7 comments:

Sophie Littlefield said...

oh yeah, i forgot...the part where we actually *learn things* and *apply them to our work*.....i knew i was forgetting something :)

Dana Fredsti said...

I also enjoy having a chance to let the not so nice parts of me out to play...

Lisa Hughey said...

Dana-
I love exploring why characters (villains especially) make the choices they do and how people can justify actions to themselves. Writing is a fascinating endeavor. :)

Sophie--ha, ha :)

Adrienne Miller said...

But what if I wanna be more heroic AND skinnier :-)
I'm gonna have to pick up that Donald Maass book. Both you and Martha are pimping it hard.

Hard Boiled Mysti said...

Thanks for a great post! I've always subscribed to the Dr. Lizardo school of thought: "Character is whatta you are in the dark!" I still haven't found a moment in my own fiction as perfect as the moment in Night and the City when Harry Fabian, running for his life, stops and goes back for his boutonniere. But someday, perhaps...

Lisa Hughey said...

Mysti--thanks! :) :) on the Dr. Lizardo quote! The best thing about fiction is that your readers may have identified that perfect moment in your work-everyone's perfect moment is different.

Adrienne-you are welcome to borrow my copy :) There is a workbook that goes with the book that can also be helpful although as much I like to *read* books on writing, I find that I tend to skip the exercises *bg*

Martha Flynn said...

that book is the bomb diggity