Style and Mentality Pt. 02byPanzerFeck©
I have never felt that a single guide or "how to" manual has given me what I need, so please do NOT count on me alone. There is much to be learned that I won't offer here.
In Part 2 of STYLE & MENTALITY I want to show you how I create characters. I don't go by a strict guide. I just have habits that work best for me and they may work for you.
WHY I CREATE CHARACTERS:
Many of us have a knack for creating characters out of the blue. There's a thing about creative people immersed in the constant flow, and the harder you work at it you'll understand.
We creatives soak up a lot of information on a daily basis, but we're more affected by it than most. But we're only as influential as we are influenced.
We're even more unique for the fact that how we've all grown individually, and what we've personally experienced, gives our writing styles their own DNA that can be separated from others. This to me is the first milestone of originality.
Marketing goons call it "thinking outside the box" (that and thinking for yourself, which oddly doesn't work for rebels like me when they're given permission to do so).
Others call it "just your opinion", while I prefer to call it "saying it like I see it," but unlike most people, I wasn't just looking from my own eyes. I tend to employ a lot of empathy.
But what draws us to our favourite characters?
We've seen enough on the screen, we've all read books and comics and short stories and played video games. Everybody has at least one majorly influential fictional hero from back in the day.
You can either create your own with your influences in mind, you can write directly from your own identity, you can start afresh and use your stories as a sort of character study - to offer a learning experience - or like me you can listen to your character's voice while it's still in your mind, hear what they live for, and you can let them write themselves in.
I write characters based on the types of people I've met and gained a deep understanding of throughout my life. It helps to have a choice of realisitic characters to choose from when I have a story concept.
And when writing is at its meditative best, you'll find that you can tap into your own intuition when it comes to performing a little psychology, and no matter who your character is, they'll find their own way if you just lend them your hands.
Above all, I simply write my characters because they desire to live and breathe. Why do you write your own characters?
HOW I PROFILE A CHARACTER:
Let's say I have an idea for a story I want to write. I've written out a storyline or a plot in my head because before it goes to my note book, I need characters that are more than just "MAN A" and "WOMAN A".
As I say, they often come to life in my mind and they will remind me of people or characters that I know, so they may take the same first name or last name and a similar appearance.
But I need an ensemble of characters that will man both the context and subtext like we're running a ship. When you're running a ship, you adopt it as your home. And you adopt its crew as your family.
Take a look at your life, your family, your friends, your work associates and think about what place they take, what your place is, and how you all see each other. We all have a place to belong in somebody's mind, even if we don't necessarily have a place to feel we belong.
That's how I look at my characters, just like everyday people!
CHARACTER PROFILING is easy and fun. Think about someone you know who would suit the characters you're creating and think of their mannerisms, the type of things they're known to say and do. Like real people they probably show different personality traits to different people, because we all appeal to each other in different ways, being the socially refined creatures that us adults are.
Personally I'll let them sit in my head for a few days first, just like my stories. If I forget them, they just weren't memorable enough to survive me, let alone my audience.
But try writing a profile, with age, gender, job, life goals, an interest or two and a life event that defines their personality. Endear yourself to them and they will become more than just a voice.
THE CHARACTER CODE:
This is something that not all writers think to do with more mabitious works. We may not all have a purpose in life, but we all have a way of living, principles, a moral code, or ethics.
Because life might be simple enough for some, or others may be shameless and aggressive in taking what they want easier than they could ever earn it, but one thing that's true of life is that we all experience the consequences of somebody else's actions in some way or another.
Therefore I like to give some main characters a few codes by which they live, whether it's by their own choosing or imposed upon them by the world in which they live.
Or by me, the writer!
Let's take a celeb and drop them in our fictional world:
Ladies and gentlemen, Mr Bradley Cooper!!
Excitement aside, Bradley is now living in a world that has yet to be written, but we know that he must struggle to come to terms with the way of this world, just as he had to come to terms with his own reality.
Now let's say that Bradley's own greatest principle is Compassion.
Once upon a time in his fictional life he was homeless and experienced first hand the cruelty and coldness of the uncharitable majority. He had a dog called Bruce. Bruce was kicked to death by drunks.
Not just grateful of the better life he has moved onto, he swore for his old pal Bruce, who he feels he failed, that he would always find a way to be Compassionate to those who looked like they would really benefit from it.
Compassion is a beautiful saintly thing. And because of it, Bradley's second Code is that because opportunistic people tend to prey on his sense of Compassion, he is also Lonely.
A Compassionate man, Lonely because it's hard to find a friend you can trust.
So Bradley wanders this world with few friends and the women in his life are platonic because he's scared to let them in, afraid that they'll take advantage of his good nature.
Bradley's third and last Character Code is that he can't let go of his past. He's not allowed to. I, the writer, will make him wander the streets, feeling guilty of his better life all because people are still suffering.
If only he could save just one life. Pocket change won't save a life directly, talking someone out of drinking booze might, but he may never see that person again and therefore he won't be there to make sure they stay clean.
Then one night he sees a drunken gang of men attacking a homeless young girl. She's getting the ever-loving shit kicked out of her, just like poor old Bruce.
What the fuck is it with you people?
Bradley, Lonely, Compassionate and unable to Forget, takes on the gang and gets a knife in the kidney. SHE then saves HIM...
Out of the hospital, one kidney still in tip-top shape, Bradley goes looking for the girl, unable to stop worrying whether she's relatively safe or not. He finds her and offers to return the favour.
She refuses. He refuses to Forget out of Compassion. Come to think of it, how Lonely can a man get?
Bradley goes around the old haunts one night to find that she's been targeted and severely beaten. He gets her to a hospital and makes sure she's treated at all costs and takes care of her when she's released...
Now you tell me what our homeless girl's Character Codes are and you have the plot to an unconventional tragic romance story.
Character Codes are essential to bringing out your creativity and your own unique human wisdom. You may be doing this subconsciously already, but if this helps you to write easier then AWESOME!!
4 (I think...)
I NEVER MAKE THE SAME CHARACTER TWICE IN THE SAME STORY:
This goes without saying, but without planning it happens too easily. I don't have to do a great deal of planning to make sure this doesn't happen. Give your lead characters their own codes, otherwise they can relate or not wherever you want them too.
But when it comes to support characters, if they're not there simply to provide dilemmas, comic relief or insight, then what is their function?
I have a way of getting around this without just throwing a 2D character in there. I often wonder what would happen if great classic character actors from different ages of the movie industry could meet on the same screen; or just actors who sadly never got to work together.
Look back through the ages and see the difference in character actors. Many of the gentlemen and dames of cinema were WWII veterans; the late Sir Christopher Lee one of the finest examples.
Then you have your thespians, blue collar and working stiff actors, sports legends and centrefold models amongst others, and they were all typecast as certain types of characters.
Being that I love movies by their decades as well as by their genres, I have an infinite pool of resources from which to sculpt a colourful support character.
Take a notepad, watch a movie, single out an actor and take notes of their appearance, demeanour, their nuances, and see what kind of character profile you come away with!
CONVENTION AKA TROPES:
Following on the coat-tails of the very last thing I pointed out about actors in character, the Convention is literally "The Conventional."
Conventional character building borrows from what has already been done successfully.
Action heroes have defined muscles and either a full head of hair or a neat shaved look and a handsome face and they have razor wit and fear nothing other than commitment in case their bitches get iced by a dodgy foreigner.
The whole bitch thing brings into question their attitude towards life and the wellbeing of women, and the hero's view of women as a whole. Some of them just seemed to get a replacement every sequel. It may likely be unintentional that their life in fiction takes on this questionable slant, but at least we have the villain to blame...
Villains these days seem to be in competition for who looks the most fuckable whereas they could have wild grey hair with balding spots, a potbelly, dress like a vagrant and have a dodgy foreign accent. Oh and if they weren't a mad scientist, arms dealer or corrupt politician, they probably had mates like that because these villains have to stick together.
And if they couldn't get what they want, kidnap the girl, or just cap her in the face while the hero is out getting Chinese.
The trope of the insecure sociopathic villain who will do anything for power, or to keep it, is ever popular because it's ever true. And this is why I'm not in politics, the slimy bastards. But we can forgive the hero his social ineptness and his inability to keep his job and his love life separate because that villain is such a raging thundercunt and his superiority complex needs a talking to...
With duel UZI 9mm's whilst plowing a Ford Mustang Boss 302 through some fish tanks!
These are two examples of Conventions, one Protagonist and one Antagonist. Not all stories need them but the more clear cut your characters are, if you must appeal to the conventional, the better the result in your writing and the audience's reaction.
I may get some great feedback for my attempts, but I see much simpler, straightforward writing getting better ratings and views.
It's your choice what you want to write.
I'm not going to write a lot on this. I explained somewhat the meaning of cliche and how it hurts to do something cliche and to do it badly.
Like I personally believe, Cliche is the Conventional done badly. It's doing once again what's been done to death, but that's sometimes unavoidable.
THE MONTY PYTHON SOLUTION:
What's worse is doing something that's been done to death badly, and lazily, like you wanted people to suffer.
It gives your audience license to make fun of you. I suppose that's good in a way as we all need to exercise our humour, having wasted our time patiently waiting for your story to get better.
Monty Python is one of the greatest comedy teams of all time, if not the greatest. To think that this is the funniest the British will ever be is a bit depressing, but their influence never died because society never stopped being what they were taking the piss out of.
Whenever I read a book, a comic, or watch a movie and it's terrible, I have a tendency to rip it to shreds and the voices of the likes of Eric Idle, Michael Palin and John Cleese speak invisbly over my shoulder, contradicting everything that's happening on the basis that it shouldn't.
In some war movie or cop movie, we're at a funeral. The flag is draped over the coffin and the grizzled lead looks on solemnly as some inept jumped up stereotype struggles to find the words to console the hero:
"He was... He was a good man!"
And how I cringe before I imagine this suddenly turning out to be a Monty Pythin sketch. Suddenly a voice pops up from out of nowhere.
"How would you know, you complete wanker?"
And then another...
"He was actually a bit of a twat!'
"Even if he hadn't been so badly written he was so hopeless he'd have shot his own bollocks off sooner or later!"
Of course, some of us get so good at this, it doesn't have to be Cliche. Just try it for yourself and if you have to force a laugh, you're good to go!