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 Character Profile

A few weeks ago, I provided some tips on how to create and develop the role of storyworld characters. As writers, characters deserve our full attention as they are the active agents that drive a story’s plot forward. They can function as either a ‘character- focalizer’ (a narrative participant) or as a ‘narrator-focalizer’ (an outside observer who knows everything about the characters) (Culler 1997, p. 90).

Whatever their role, characters give us a front row seat for all the action. If we are reading a short story or novel, the characters provide us with an intimate view into their thoughts and feelings via their ‘streams of consciousness’.

We have also learned some of the basic techniques for creating the storyworld’s most important characters – the hero and the villain. This week we will be exploring secondary characters and their narrative function.  And I will deliver some tips on how to create a dynamic character profile for a False Hero.

The function of secondary characters.

As we ready know, stories are usually centered around the hero, so the secondary characters function as an extension of the hero’s universe. The villain opposes the hero. The secondary characters provide help for the hero. But not always! If you are writing a comedy screenplay, chances are you might have a bumbling chaos-causing side-kick character who causes more problems for the hero than helping him.

In filmmaking, the sidekick can sometimes be turned into a worthy helpmate towards the end of the film. So this kind of character is well worth considering. Can you think of any books or films with this kind of character profile?

All of these rules about writing and story-world character creation may come across as being rigid and not allowing room for unbridled creativity. You may be thinking – creativity is all about letting your mind run wild and free, isn’t? Why can’t I just sit at my notepad, computer, or iPad and just for go for it?

Yes, absolutely you can do all these things! But the writing mantra has always been – once you know the literary rules that govern the story-world, then you can be brave and break them! An example of breaking the rules would be to turn the hero’s helper into a character who causes more trouble for the hero.  Remember the bumbling, chaos-causing side-kicks in Seinfeld – George or Kramer.

I believe that if you learn these basic rules, then you are on your way to becoming a better writer. I also encourage you to explore the world of narratology as much as possible. Especially if you want to take your writing to the professional level.  Learn from the experts such as: Robert McKee, James Patterson, Patricia Cornwell…

And become a reader too. Reading will expand your imagination, teach you about the beauty of language – and help you grow as a writer. My purpose at Creative is to help you develop as a storyteller. I am on a creative journey too and there is always something new to learn.

So let us start exploring our secondary characters a little more.

Seven archetypal characters.

In a previous blog, I mentioned that the story-world consists of seven archetypal characters as outlined by the Russian folklorist, Vladimir Propp. Here are Propp’s conclusions:

1. Functions of characters serve as stable, constant elements in a tale, independent of how and by whom they are fulfilled. They constitute the fundamental components of a tale.

2. The number of functions known to the fairy-tale is limited.

3. The sequence of functions is always identical.

4. All fairy tales are of one type in regard to their structure. *

* (Propp in Turner 1988, p. 69)

It is also important to remember that for modern-day storytellers these character types continue to remain stable and constant regardless of the setting or time period. But not all of these characters will be present in a narrative. And although all of these archetypal characters have distinctive functions, some of these roles can be played by more than one character such as the False Hero.

Here are the seven archetypes as identified by Propp:

The hero
The false hero
The donor (or provider)
The helper/s
The princess (or sought after person) (sometimes accompanied by her father)
The dispatcher (the person who sends the hero on his journey)
The villain

As we have already directed the spotlight onto our primary story characters, the Hero and the Villain, they can just hang out in the ‘green room’ for now.

Here are the archetypes we will be concentrating on over the next couple of weeks:

1. The donor
2. The helper
3. The princess (the sought after person)
4. The dispatcher – the person who sends the hero on his journey.
5. The false hero.

You have probably noticed that I have been using the mediums of filmmaking and television to predominately draw my story examples from. Of course, there are many great examples in literature, but I think both filmmaking and television have a greater potential for a global story saturation. And most of us are familiar with film and television references.

So now I am going to use the Star Wars saga to flesh out these characters in a modern setting.

The hero – Luke Skywalker
The false hero – Darth Vader
The donor – Obiwan Kenobi
The helper – Han Solo
The princess – Princess Leia
The dispatcher – R2D2
The villain – Darth Vader

This week I have chosen ‘The false hero’ for our secondary character profile.

From the Star Wars franchise, we have seen the development of the Darth Vader character, from the conflicted and misguided ‘false hero’ Anakin Skywalker, to his evolution as the villain. As a little boy, he was innocent and sweet and had a tragic life, and we felt for him, and we looked forward to his bright future as a light saber extraordinaire – the Jedi Knight. But alas, we were very much mistaken, or at least some of us tried to be shocked and dismayed at Anakin’s descent into darkness – after the considerable gap between the films. But Anakin was the false hero and it was his son, Luke, who would be the real hero. What is your view here? Do you think it is possible to have two heroes?

Another example of a false hero is the well known classic story that has also made a billion dollar crossover to a film franchise – The Lord of the Rings. Who is the false hero in this narrative? You may not agree, but I reckon it is Gollum. Before he became the wretched and ring-obsessed pathetic creature, Gollum, he was just a normal hobbit who had discovered a magic ring, not dissimilar to Bilbo and Frodo. But once the ring had consumed him with evil, he became a false hero, and in some ways a villain as well. Of course, he could have been the hero of the story, like Frodo, but his choice relegated him to the role of the false hero.

Just like the real hero, the false hero will have a journey to take and a choice to make. But he will falter in his journey, therefore allowing the real hero to step up.

Sometimes the false hero is used as a ‘red herring’ or as a clever narrative device to misguide the reader or viewer and to keep them guessing.

So we can see from this brief character portrait that although these character functions “serve as stable, constant elements in a tale” (Propp in Turner 1988, p. 60), some of these fictional characters can develop a dual/split personality, so to speak. For information on Propp’s archetypal characters see Graeme Turner: Film as Social Practice – available on Amazon Books.

 

Next Week: We are going to talk about the role of the ‘princess’ or love interest. This will be an interesting character to explore as the ‘princess’ in traditional storytelling, especially in the fairy tale, has been presented as a passive observer of the action, and more often than not – the passive receiver of the action. But this role has changed. Many thanks to Sigourney Weaver from Aliens, and Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games.

Happy writing!

 

References:

Culler, Jonathan 1997, Literary Theory, A Very Short Introduction. Oxford. New York: Oxford University Press.

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

 

Image:
Kermit.

Source: Reddit.com

Giphy.com

 

 

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/