Creating Believable Characters Ch. 02byNobodyWorthKnowing©
In addition to creating realistic characters, in realistic (if not fantastic) situations, I've included a few exercises to help build those literary muscles. At the end of this piece, there should be some interesting situations
Once you believe you have your cast of characters in full dimension, it is up to you to test these characters to insure they are not merely tailored for a single situation. Any real life human being can train to work in any line of industry. They can learn any trade. They can do basically whatever they put their mind to.
Your characters are no different. Your characters WANT to exist in your work... even if they eventually have to die, while they exist they want a FULL existence. You can provide this for them by avoiding the tailor-made characters. If your story is a crime drama, and Detective John Doe is the lead character, he had better know more than just detective work. Understand that as "real" people, your character had a life before law, or crime, or super-heroism, horror, or whatever situation you put them into. The detective may have a Honda now, but he didn't when he was sixteen... or maybe he did, but now he's 36, and its the same car. Understand that Detective John Doe first started out the workforce at 16, flipping burgers for Happy John's Burger Basket. Or He was an usher for Leroy's Theaters. Maybe he was a mop boy for some gym... perhaps detective work was his hobby back then. Perhaps he wanted to be a magician, and the attention to detail required lead him into his line of work as a detective. My point is: He's not 100% pure detective.
Tailoring characters to a story, unless it's a fairy tale, or story with a "more of the story is:..." will insult your audience. People who cannot relate to your characters will forget them.
To help you put your characters to the test, I will provide a distinct list of challenges I call the gauntlet. Take your best characters, male, or female: BOTH good, and evil and place them through the gauntlet. IF your characters are tailored, this will help flesh them out; if they're full characters, this will be a fun exercise to see how they respond. Remember: Have fun.
The Gauntlet (character prompts by Cassus Finley).
CHALLENGE ONE: Protagonist (M/F/) / Antagonist (M/F)
The Gas Station.
Work is incredibly difficult for your hero/villain. The market's down, and the economy is a bust. As such, the Hero Dept/Villains Inc. has closed down and forced your protagonist / antagonist to seek new work.
Barley's Snacks, and Gas has an open spot for a day shift gas station attendant. Duties include running the register, maintaining the floor, store, and restrooms, and when full service is ordered, pumping gas for customers.
Your character is hired into BS&G, and it's their first day. Write a short story about their first week there, starting at day one. This is a character exercise, and will focus on their attitude, moral, and work ethic. You'll have to get creative, describe customers, your character reactions to the customer, and customer reactions to the character. This is not nearly as easy as it sounds, but it's fun. You should definitely post your results under your writing, and show off your character.
CHALLENGE TWO: Protagonist (M/F/) / Antagonist (M/F)
Paper, or Plastic?
Damn the luck. Barley's Snacks, and Gas improved their lot, and became a garage as well. They hired a knowledgeable staff of mechanics who work for peanuts, and can also run the shop. (Brad Barley got rich, and retired). Your character was laid off, and out of a job again. Work is incredibly difficult for your hero/villain. The market's down, and the economy is a bust. As such, the Hero Dept/Villains Inc. has closed down and forced your protagonist / antagonist to seek new work.
Fortunately, Mad Larry Kazbrack's Supermarket Food Emporium is hiring a bagger. They recently upgraded from a surplus food store, to a surplus food store and delicatessen. The sales have never been higher (which is relative), and they can afford a bagger. Just one.
Your character is hired, and has started work. The story is relatively busy, and only some of the customers speak English (what languages customers speak are entirely up to you). The register operators treat your character poorly, but your character needs the work. There are three stations in operation, so your character is busy at one station, or the next. Somehow, Mad Larry Kazbrack managed to withhold breaks, so your character rarely gets a moment's rest. For one week, starting from day one, help your character work at Mad Larry Kazbrack's Supermarket Food Emporium as a bagger. There is NO room for growth, or advancement. This is the only position, so good luck.
Post your results as before. This is documentation of your character's employment history, AND, their personal growth into three dimensions.
THIRD CHALLENGE: Protagonist (M/F/) / Antagonist (M/F)
During off hours, Mad Larry Kazbrack, in a drunken stupor, broke into his own store and tried to start a campfire so he could roast some of his surplus marsh mellows. So... that's why they call him Mad Larry. The story burned down, and all they found of mad Larry was a rib. It must have been a hell of an inferno.
Your Character is out of work now, and with jobs behind him/her, your character is homeless.
Cold hungry nights, and harsh city/town/country environments. Some people are kind, some are cruel, and your character's new community is mostly filled with vets, and struggling addicts. Law enforcement is constantly harassing your character to "move along" or "find shelter elsewhere". How does your character handle this? Your character will spend a week being homeless, without money, without a change of clothes, or any of the simplicities that they had taken for granted before. Explore your character's thoughts, and feelings about their new environment, and help them survive for a week. Make certain to post your findings. Share you character's experiences.
FOURTH CHALLENGE: Protagonist (M/F/) / Antagonist (M/F)
By now your character has undergone what seems to most people as ridiculous work, and labor. They have been homeless, and dealt in harsh environments of a sadly normal world. Who knows what treatment they received, or returned.
In this challenge, your character is well back on their feet, and has amassed at least enough money to live comfortably. After the stint of being homeless, they had a full checkup, and have been living happily for some time. This final scenario is likely the hardest.
The hospital calls and requests your character to come in and "talk" with his/her physician. The news is not good. Your character has HIV.
How does your character deal with the news, and what will he/she do? What are his/her thoughts, and feelings, and how does he/she respond to the news? Who do they tell, or, do they tell anyone at all? Does life go on as usual, or does it come to a screeching halt? Explore the horror that your character feels, the revulsion at the news. Highlight emotional textures, and help your character traverse the steps from shock, to acceptance. Post your findings, and share these experiences.
FINAL CHALLENGE: Protagonist (M/F/) / Antagonist (M/F)
Your character wakes up in their bed, covered in sweat. The past challenges have all been a long, bad dream. How does your character relate these experiences to their life? Do these dreams make an impact, or does your character learn nothing from their dream-scape experiences?
This is an important final task, because your character is at a vulnerable place. They may wake alone, or with a partner; they may wake screaming, or crying, or laughing; make certain to explain, and explore these concepts. Upon completion of the final challenge, your character overview before, and after should have a dramatic difference.
Post your findings, and congratulations if your character survived the Gauntlet.