In Character and Color

I found myself lying in bed yesterday, in more pain than I could possibly ever have imagined, being told by the various nurses that what I was going through was the closest thing to child birth that a man could experience. I was medicated, so maybe my next train of thought was a bit… off, but I was wondering: is personal experience a better way to understand your character’s state of mind?

If so, I want off this bus. Right now.

Creating a character that people can associate with is one of the hardest things to do when writing a book. I mean, you know how you want your character to act and behave. But the readers will always have a slightly different image of your character in their minds, no matter how hard you try to paint him or her with exact details. For years I imagined that Jack Ryan of Tom Clancy fame resembled a young Pierce Brosnan, and when the movie “Patriot Games” came out my perception was a little shattered upon seeing Harrison Ford play the character.

To have readers picture in their mind your character, first off, requires that they be interested in your character. One of my personal complaints when reading is when a character is such a good guy that he fits into the classic mold of being a “face”, a nickname for the good guy in classic pro wrestling. You know the conflict for the hero is that all he needs to do is stop the bad guy from accomplishing his nefarious plot while saving the heroine from Certain Doom. With these heroes, there is no inner conflict, no qualms about morality and right vs wrong in his worldview. They are, sad to say, boring.

So how do you have a character have color but still be someone that a reader wants to root for?

I actually like to use the character Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer as an example. Joss Whedon’s shows might not always get the acclaim that they deserve, but with Spike Whedon hit a gold mine. You had the soulless vampire who was in love with a nutcase trying to kill the slayer. He leaves, is dumped and comes back. Well, Whedon saw the potential that Spike had as a good guy and he slowly drifted over to fight with the good guys (notice I didn’t say fight “for” them) because it was the only outlook he had left. And you know what? Spike’s popularity grew exponentially and soon, in my opinion,  surpassed that of Buffy’s one-time paramour, Angel.

So how did Whedon do it?

Whedon and his writers, in their infinite wisdom, made the characters of the show far more likable and believable than anyone had done since probably the days of M*A*S*H. He allowed the viewers to associate with the fans, and to feel emphasize with them. Basically, he made you want to be friends with his characters. Granted, part of this is the excellent actors portrayal, but a lot of it still is the writing and character creation involved.

Being a writer is hard. Creating characters that your readers will love and believe is harder.

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