Most of my stories are character driven. I almost always start with a vague plot idea and then ask myself: "What if THIS kind of a person lived in THIS story world?" I love characters. I love creating them. I love finding out what makes them tick. One of the challenges with writing characters, however, is making them real. You can't focus on just one attribute or characteristic because your characters will be flat and one dimensional. In order to make characters come alive on the page and to make your readers feel along side with them, you have to dig deep.
I had a dream this week which prompted me to change the direction of my first post in this series. Dreaming is not uncommon for me. I dream every night, and most nights I remember my dreams, at least in part. Saturday night I had a dream about my husband. This, however, is rare. The only times I ever dream about my husband, I am searching for him because there are zombies outside the door or the Nazis are on their way to our house to burn our books and execute our kitties and I can't find him ANYWHERE. But not this week. This week, I dreamed about my husband. And not just one of him. I dreamed about three of him. Each version of him seemed to express one aspect of his character. I found all of them attractive, and it drove me crazy every time a new version showed up, because I was already in love with the previous one, but I couldn't help myself. I kept falling in love with each version of him that came along.
The first version of my husband was what I am calling the Super Hero Sam. I have another name for this character, too, but I will come back to that. Super Hero Sam was awesome. He was every fan girl's biggest dream come true. He had an airplane full of gadgets and guns and he flew around the world saving people. I got to jump out of airplanes and chase villains with him and risk all to preserve justice. It was a blast. No, if you are asking, my husband is not a super hero, but he does have a very strong sense of justice. He believes in solid right and wrongs, and believes in fighting for what you believe in. It is one of the reasons I love him.
But it is not the only reason.
The second version of Sam was the Humanitarian Sam. After I finished jumping out of airplanes, I dreamed that I met another Sam. This one was travelling the world with his family, visiting third world countries trying to help people who needed food and medicine. I really, really liked this version of Sam. He was probably the most real of the three versions. He felt human. He had a family. He was easy to talk to. He wanted to help people behind the scenes with things that really mattered. I have another name for this character, too, but again I will come back to that.
While I was traveling the world with Humanitarian Sam, I met a third version of him. This one I call the Tragic Sam. He was a king of some third world country that was fighting to save his little kingdom from villains and financial ruin. He was misunderstood. He was under-appreciated. He was depressed. He was lost. He was SO lonely. I fell for him the hardest. I've always had a soft spot for tragic heroes.
I laughed when I woke up because this really was one of the oddest dreams I have ever had, and I've had my share of bizarre dreams, but this one stuck with me. I kept thinking about all day yesterday. And then it hit me. I wasn't being unfaithful to Sam every time I fell in love with a new version of him. I was UNSATISFIED with the one-dimensional versions of him. I wanted something more. I didn't want a wedge of the triangle. I wanted the entire triangle.
Characterization is like that. People want the whole deal. Inspired by these three versions of Sam, I came up with a Triangle for Characterization. And if this has been done before, which I'm sure it has, I apologize if I am reusing it, but it is so perfect. There are three sides to every character:
There is the Man You Want to Be -- the Super Hero who jumps out of airplanes and saves damsels in distress.
There is the Man You Really Are -- the real you, the one who has a family and a life and an occupation.
Then, there is the Man You Wish You Weren't -- the man with weaknesses and flaws and painful histories.
You need all of these to develop a fully rounded character. The best characters have dreams, have solid presents, and have painful pasts and flaws and character quirks. One aspect isn't enough. You need the whole deal.
I certainly did. I like my fully developed and well-rounded Sam so much better than each of these little versions of him. I wouldn't want any one of them. I want them all.
I hope you will join me for the other posts in this series. I am planning to delve into some of my favorite literary characters and pull out some of the reasons why I like them so much. I will be focusing on the different roles that characters play in the story--such as the hero, the antagonist, the side kick, etc. It will be a great deal of fun to pluck out some of my favorite literary characters and prod them a little bit to see what makes them tick.