Make Your Characters Face Their Fears

Creating fictional characters who display real life human characteristics and personality traits make them more believable, which in turn will make your reader or viewer love them more. When we read a book or watch a movie, it’s the character arc or the character’s journey that draws us in and keeps us riveted to the page or screen. By exploring your story characters (whether it’s the prime villain or the hero) and highlighting their flaws and fears and making them face them, either to create conflict or as a conduit for victory, lies at the very heart of dynamic storytelling.

Creating Character Flaws

Strengths and weakness are important for creating compelling characters. No one is perfect, we all have our strengths and weaknesses, idiosyncrasies, etc. So why should our story characters be any different?

Creating a super-hero who has special powers and manages to cheat death over and over is a little boring unless he has a weakness. Giving him character flaws also allows his ruthless nemesis to use that character flaw or weakness to taunt the hero. Once the hero has faced his weakness, he can then determine to rise to the challenge to overcome it.

Inner Conflicts and Tragic Pasts.

Any struggle, tragedy or trauma we face can ultimately make us into stronger, more indomitable and multi-faceted human beings. No one likes experiencing hardship, pain or suffering, but difficult events, circumstances, and people can transform us. This way something good can be born out of something bad. By allowing ourselves to grow through hardship, we are able to retain some control over the seemingly uncontrollable. It is the same for our narrative characters.  As creative writers, our dynamic characters act as our conduit through which we can reach and impact our readers.

Giving characters an inner conflict, a tragic past or a trauma can lead to their personal transformation. As we read a book or watch a film, we experience a character’s struggle, we feel and sometimes identify with their inner conflict caused by a tragic past and we want to see what lies ahead for them in the story. There can be no victory without a struggle and it is in the struggle that victory is won.

Facing Fear

Many times in real life we find we are immobilized by our flaws and fears, but creating characters can very cathartic, and can even motivate us to be better people and also break through the fear barrier.  We all have a hero and a villain inside us and we can choose which one we will follow. Our destiny can be determined by ‘who’ we choose to follow.

Examples of Characters that have Flaws and Fears

With hints of the ever increasingly popular anti-hero dominating our movie screens, it seems that the more flawed the hero is, with fears and doubts that we sometimes struggle with, the more they dazzle on screen and on the page.

The fear or doubt the character struggles with can be small or great: a hidden secret, a struggle with alcoholism, a struggle with feeling inadequate, or that life never works out. Some examples include Hancock, Frodo, and maybe even Bruce Almighty. But despite these flaws, they do not stay immobilized forever. They must push forward, recognize their weaknesses, break through the fear barrier, complete their mission, and achieve their goal.

In the story-world, the hero and villain, although polar opposites are necessary for narrative interest, complex character relationships, and their conflict is central to the story’s plot progression. They also have fears to face and choices to make and their choices will make all the difference to the story and to the audience.

Creative Exercise

Create two characters: a hero and a villain. Create a character profile: name, age, appearance, occupation, etc. List their character flaws, fears, doubts, and insecurities. How will they overcome these flaws and fears? Once you have created your character profile, you can start to build your story-world around them.

By exploring your story characters and giving them flaws and making them face their deepest fears, will result in dynamic characters that will win the interest of your audience.

 

Image:

Artist

Unsplash.

Pixabay.com

How to Create a Dynamic Villain For a Story

 

This week we are talking about another important character in creative storytelling – the hero’s nemesis – the villain or antagonist.  Like the hero, a storyteller needs to learn how to create a dynamic and memorable villain.  

Our world is experiencing unprecedented attacks from many out of control villains, and it seems that many of these villains are escaping the true justice they so rightly deserve.  But in the fictional world, the villain will always get his just rewards and face defeat.  Evelyn from The Mummy got it right when she said to the comedic style villain, Benny,“You know, nasty little fellows such as yourself always get their comeuppance.” (The Mummy, 1999)

The fictional world is attractive to writers because it offers an author complete literary control.  You can be the master or mistress of your own special micro-world.  All of the storyworld elements: the plot, the characters, and story symbols are yours to command.

At the scratch of a pen or at the tap of the keyboard, the journey the characters take and the ultimate destiny they face – all of it is in your hands.  Being able to dictate who, when and where in the narrative world is a literary luxury that real life does not allow us mere human beings to have.

So anyway, let’s get back to the fictional villain.

Last week I mentioned that all of the storyworld characters (seven archetypes, remember?) revolve around the hero and his universe, and are designed to function as either a help or a hindrance to his journey.

The antagonist is the hero’s main opponent.  As our hero embarks on his journey he will have one primary opponent who opposes him – the antagonist or the villain of the storyworld. The antagonist is designed to provide the main source of conflict for the hero.

Creating a dynamic and terrifying antagonist is like gold for the writer, because this character provides the story with its necessary form.  And above all, the antagonist provides the opposition and the many seemingly insurmountable obstacles to the hero’s journey.  This opposition is important for our hero, because the greater the opposition, the greater your hero will grow.

Here are Four tips on how to create a dynamic and memorable antagonist.

1. The antagonist will have a strong moral argument relating to his narrative purpose.

Like the hero, the antagonist will firmly believe that his chosen path is the right way, and his thinking will be along the lines of – “it’s my way or the highway.”  This blinkered psychology, although hopelessly flawed, defines his characterization and cements his place in the narrative.

More often than not, the antagonist does not see himself as the bad guy.  He believes that he is right and consequently he becomes part of his own created myth.

Sometimes he will have a moral argument that sounds plausible, and this will create conflict not only for the hero but also for the reader.  This character-driven tension keeps us glued to the page or to the screen.  But at the end of the story, the antagonist’s real motives are revealed and his flawed argument falls to pieces.

2. The antagonist is cast almost as the hero’s double.

When I say ‘double’ I mean the hero and the antagonist will have certain similarities. They will mirror each other in some areas such as: having a singular vision, distinctive values or they have had a past traumatic experience.  Although these visions, values, and experiences will differ significantly, they work to define these characters and will propel them through the story.

3. Use the ‘double reversal’.

Another interesting technique that can be used for creating a dynamic villain is called a ‘double reversal’.  A ‘double reversal’ is when the antagonist has an epiphany or revelation towards the end of the narrative, which is contrasted with the hero’s revelation.  The ‘double reversal’ allows the antagonist and the hero to learn an important lesson from each other.

The antagonist’s revelation makes him appear stronger due to his apparent capacity to change, and also provides the reader or viewer with a chance to question this revelation.  Has the antagonist been redeemed? Will he turn away from the dark side of the force and become good?  Can both the hero and the antagonist live in the same world?

It is in this pivotal moment of the antagonist’s false epiphany that the hero is able to overcome his nemesis and achieve his ultimate transformation.

Every antagonist/villain has his vulnerable side – think Darth Vader/Anakin Skywalker.  Here we are presented with an antagonist who has shown a sudden and remarkable capacity for positive and permanent change. The writer, George Lucas, provided hints throughout the film that signified that change was possible for this conflicted character.

Although he was menacing and terrified the other characters, Darth Vader had originally started off his journey well. As a young man, he had allowed himself to be ‘seduced by the dark side of the force’ in his quest for power and control.  And once he had been totally consumed by darkness, he wreaked havoc at every turn.  But when he was faced with the destruction of his only son, Luke, by the evil emperor,  he finally realized his mistake.  How unvillain like!  Of course, unlike Darth Vader, there are many antagonists who do not change.  They stay unrepentant to the very end.

4. Create an antagonist who generates sympathy.

As you begin to create your antagonist you might decide to create one who generates sympathy.

Again I am going to refer to the Man of Steel film.  Although I am not a big fan of the Superman films – a man with his underpants on the outside of his tights really does not appeal to me – but when it came to this latest film edition, I was impressed.  Not with the costumes, but with the characterization.

The primary antagonist – General Zod – was the epitome of the classic villain.  He was cruel, ruthless, driven, and passionate about his cause.  But he also generated sympathy. Why?  Because the primal desire that lay at the heart of his destructive plan for planet earth was to resurrect his native people who had been destroyed after his home planet, Krypton, exploded.  Sounds like a good desire – right? But at what cost to planet earth?  Do two wrongs make a right?

Although Zod was designed to generate sympathy and to keep the audience in suspense, he remained a villain to the end.  Zod was not interested in joining Superman in calling earth his new home. Or in letting go of his tragic past ( the destruction of Krypton). He was not interested in embracing a bright future like Superman had.  It was going to be Zod’s ‘way or the highway’.  His dark self-was hell bent on total genocide and there was no turning back for his megalomania.

But it was in this cataclysmic moment that Superman, our bizarrely clad hero, won his victory.

Again, like the hero, there is a wide range of techniques available for you to create a dynamic antagonist in creative storytelling.  I have only provided just a few.

Both the hero and antagonist are important characters within a story and it is their combined function to drive the story’s plot forward.

So what kind of antagonist will you dream up, the classic ‘evil to the bitter end’ villain or will you create a dynamic villain who generates sympathy?

 

Next week: Secondary story characters.

 

Image: 

Darth Vader

Source. Legionofleia.com

GIPHY

How to Create a Dynamic Hero

Last week we were learning about how to create compelling story characters in general and how the best characters are those who are fully developed.  This week I am introducing the main protagonist – the hero – and how a well-rounded and dynamic hero is of primary importance to your story. So read on and discover how to create a dynamic hero that will bring your story alive.

“What makes a hero? Courage, strength, morality, withstanding adversity? Are these the traits that truly show and create a hero? Is the light truly the source of darkness or vice versa? Is the soul a source of hope or despair? Who are these so-called heroes and where do they come from? Are their origins in obscurity or in plain sight?”

Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes from Underground

We all love heroes; whether it be in the pages of a book, on the silver screen, or in even in real life. We are thrilled by their incredible acts of bravery and great sacrifice.  We admire those people who dare to shine like bright stars in a dark world.  So when it comes to writing a story, the hero or the main protagonist is one of the most important narrative elements in the fictional world.  It is the hero who allows the reader or viewer to primarily engages with the story.  It is usually the hero who bring us back to our favorite book or inspires us to follow a film franchise.

“First, find out what your hero wants, then just follow him!”
Ray Bradbury

Out of all the characters in the story world, it is the hero who allows a writer to explore and develop their story premise or controlling idea.  All of the other characters revolve around the hero and his universe and are designed to function as a help or a hindrance to his journey. 

Without the hero, the story world would fall apart.  Now when I say hero, I am also including the all important female double, the heroine, but just to make it simpler, I will just use the patriarchal title – the hero.

To understand the hero’s narrative function, we need to understand the basic reoccurring characters types or archetypes that are unique to all meta-narratives.  The great Russian folklorist Vladimir Propp studied a wide range of folk tales in the early to mid 20th century and consequently developed a model upon which all archetypal (original) character functions are based. 

According to Vladimir Propp, all characters can be categorized as ‘spheres of action’ (Lacey 2000 p. 51) within a narrative structure and serve as stable, constant elements…” in a tale (Turner 1988, p. 69).  These ‘spheres of action’ are separated into seven archetypal characters: villain, donor, helper, princess (and her father); dispatcher, the hero (seeker or victim); [and] false [or anti- hero]” (Lacey 2000, p. 51).  As we are talking about the hero in this blog, we will disregard the other character types for now.

When we begin to write a story, it is the controlling idea or premise that tells the reader or viewer what the story is about.  But it is the ‘who’ – the all-important hero who outworks this controlling idea.  Right from the beginning, we follow the hero, we experience his struggles, his failures, and his victories.

In order to create a dynamic hero, we need to keep in mind some questions regarding a hero’s narrative function and specific characterization.  Who is the hero in the story?  What is his purpose? What are his goals?  What inspires or drives him to embark upon his journey?  What makes him unique from all the other characters?

The hero should be likable or at least invoke our sympathy.  We must care about him and identify with him on some level.  I am referring to human heroes here.  Although, animal heroes can also be endowed with human-like qualities: see anthropomorphism.

A good hero will be fascinating and possess some quality that catches our attention.  He will have an intriguing personality. He projects charisma. He is witty or brilliant.  He shows great courage in the face of great adversity.  For this example I will use a heroine – think of The Hunger Games protagonist – Katniss Everdeen.

A hero will have a strong desire and a primal need that connects him to his goal such as a desire for freedom, protection of loved ones, a love interest.  The goal should be simple and tangible, but there should be a world of complexity that surrounds it.

The hero possesses a conscious need or desire that is connected to an underlying contradictory unconscious need that stems from a deep seated wound like rejection, exclusion, or betrayal.  These hidden needs are a representation of the hero’s ego and also act as a metaphor for his search for identity and completeness.  It is these two conflicting desires that the hero struggles with throughout the narrative and his attempt to reconcile them creates interest and intrigue.

Endowing your hero with flaws gives him the opportunity to grow, to learn, to develop through the ‘character arc’.  As the hero begins his journey from a place of imperfection or a place of lack, he evolves into a well-rounded character with great psychological depth.  At the end of the journey, the hero is ultimately rewarded with the restoration of that lack: he wins the object of his romantic affection or defeats his nemesis.

The hero must be active, proactive and be an agent of change.  He may begin as a passive character, but at some point in the narrative, he must become active, and take back the control of his story.  It is his story that we are telling, after all! 

The latest Superman film, Man of Steel, is a great example of a hero’s transition from passive to active.  For quite a substantial section of the movie, Clark Kent tries to hide from his destiny.  Even his foster father tries to keep Clark from achieving his destiny as savior of the world or at least the city of Metropolis.  But it is when his foster father dies, and his arch-nemesis, General Zod, hunts him down, he is kick-started into action and this is when he really begins to shine.

Like all good storybook heroes, Clark Kent/Superman is firstly defined by a small action (saving the children in the school bus), which acts as a foreshadowing of greater things to come – an immense action – kicking General Zod and his army of supervillain’s butts.  Our hero should draw the reader or viewer in slowly, with a mix of internal and external conflicts, small and immense actions.

Above all the hero must undergo a metamorphosis or some sort of transformation.  But before he can achieve this transformation, he needs to be faced with a personal loss or tragedy that he feels he cannot reconcile himself to: think Luke Skywalker and the death of his father, Darth Vader/Anakin, in The Return of the Jedi

A hero’s tragedy or ‘dark night of the soul’ takes place in the final stages of a story and is considered to be the critical moment in the hero’s journey. It is this critical moment or final catalyst (although heartbreaking) that is designed as a necessary strategy to propel him forward towards his desired goal.  Although the hero faces defeat (and it must appear to be total), it is only a temporary defeat that allows him to transition into a new state of being and become a stronger character.

Finally, there are two types of heroes: the gung-ho adventure type who has no qualms about jumping into the action. Then there is the unwilling hero or anti-hero who is full of self-doubt and needs a violent shove by some outside force into a rip-roaring adventure.  Which hero type is your favorite? I’m a fan of the anti-hero.

Of course, there is so much more to be said about the hero.  So, I encourage you to seek out books, websites, YouTube videos about creating a dynamic hero.

Creative Exercise: Create your own hero/protagonist.

Don’t forget to leave a comment.  I would like to chat with you about your ideas for stories and characters.

Next week: The Villain – the heroes opponent.

 

References:

Lacey, Nick 2000, Narrative, and Genre: Key Concepts in Media Studies, Houndmills: Macmillan

Turner, Graeme 1988, ‘Film narrative’, Film as Social Practice, Routledge, London

 

Reading list:

Voger, Christopher 1999, The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Storytellers and Screenwriters, Pan, London.

 

Image:

Ironman

Heartywizard

Pixabay.com

How to Create Compelling Story Characters

Creating story characters is an exciting part of writing. As the creator of your own micro world, there are new heroes and villains just waiting to be born. But in order to capture your reader’s attention and make them want to read your story up until the very last page, you need to create compelling story characters they will care about.

So before we start, let me ask you some questions.  When you read a book, watch a film or a television show – what draws you in?  What captures your imagination?  What inspires you to go and see a film or buy a book? What gets you hooked into a television show?  I am pretty sure your answers to these questions will be… the characters – real or fictional. 

It does not matter whether we cheer for the hero or whether we hate the villain, characters are the most important elements in the story-world.  We all have our favorite characters (and I don’t mean actors or actresses). Who is your favorite character?  Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia, or maybe a cartoon superhero – Batman, Superman or Iron Man?  Or maybe you are a fan of the villain – the hero’s nemesis!

The best characters are complex and fully developed.  They have distinctive traits (actions, speech and external appearance).  Characters appear more complex when they develop new traits or undergo a metamorphosis or a personal transformation throughout the story.

What do we look for in a character?  Human qualities like sensitivity, empathy, strong values, bravery etc.  We seek to identify with characters on some level.  Do they laugh, cry, or experience conflict?  Do they experience crushing disappointments and celebrate long-awaited victories?

Even though I am a self-confessed bookaholic, I believe the world of filmmaking has the greatest potential for creating dynamic characters.  Since the creation of film, in the late 19th century, audiences have been quite happy to sit in a small darkened room, separated from their friends and other captured viewers, whilst being held transfixed by the moving images on a screen.

In the 21st century, we continue to repeat this much loved cultural activity, either at the cinema or in our self-created home theatre.  And in these social places of magic and wonder, we are suspended in time and space.  So what keeps us spell-bound?  Forget the special effects, the digital sound and computer generated imagery (CGI).  It’s all about the characters!  Whether we admit it or not, we live vicariously through these imaginary people who seem to live eternally in the magical story-world.

“It begins with a character, usually, and once he stands up on his feet and begins to move, all I can do is trot along behind him with a paper and pencil trying to keep up long enough to put down what he says and does.”
― William Faulkner

I love this quote about story characters.  Faulkner’s experience reminds me of what can happen when you breathe life into a character.  Once you have drafted your character’s backstory, their actions, their trajectory, chances are, he or she can sometimes develop a mind or will of their own.  There have been countless times when my characters have surprised me.  Their personalities have undergone a dramatic reversal and they seem to want to direct the plot themselves.  I thought it was just me and I had been staring at the computer screen for too long.  I had spent too much time in the fictional world.  But one day I attended a catch-up meeting with some other ‘creatives’ from the film, television, and theater site, Stage 32, and when I asked one of the writers do your characters sometimes change during the writing process? The answer was Yes!

So, why do characters change mid-story?  As writers, we have the power to create characters that can mirror real life people.  And just like real people, your characters can develop a mind or will of their own. 

A character will possess universal human characteristics and can be drawn from people we know.  We can relate to them on some level and we hope others will too. 

Of course, characters are not only restricted to humans; they can be animals, extraterrestrials (E.T.) or toys that come to life (Toy Story).  The possibilities are endless.  And sometimes there are characters we can not relate to, but they also have an important part to play and have an important story to tell.

“Who are these characters?  What do they want?  Why do they want it?  How do they go about getting it? What stops them?  What are the consequences?  Finding the answers to these grand questions and shaping them into a story is our overwhelming creative task.”

Robert McKee, Story, Style, Structure, Substance, and the Principles of Screenwriting.

Characters are the active agents in your storyworld that drive the plot forward.  They get things done, they react to situations and to other characters.  They put the heart and soul into your story.  The dialogue and monologues uttered by fictional heroes and villains are often the words we fear to say in real life. 

As a creator, we can make our characters do things that we are afraid to do in our everyday lives.  An example would be: having the courage to talk to someone we have admired from afar, or being bold and accepting a challenge. 

Yes, sometimes characters can achieve the things that we can only dream about. 

I also think that creating characters can be very therapeutic.  When I’m angry, stressed or depressed – creating a character helps.

Here are a few tips or ideas to get you started:

1.  Create a backstory for your character/s – even if you are only writing a short story.  A short story can develop into a novel or screenplay! Create a character profile: name, age, appearance, occupation, etc. 

2.  Just like actors do when they are preparing for a performance, ask yourself these questions about your characters?  What drives them? What are their passions, fears, goals? 

Let your characters lead you.   The fictional world is their domain.  Let them take you on their journey, you never know where it may lead.  So have fun creating compelling story characters your reader will love.

 

 
Images:

Library. erdemdindar

Pixabay.com

 

Reference:

Stage 32: The Premier Social Network for Film, Television and Theater Creatives.

https://www.stage32.com/welcome/18/