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 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 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/

 

Top 10 Building Blocks for Writing A Story

Welcome to the world of creative writing and storytelling!  The art of storytelling flows from the very heart of the human condition. We cannot help but create and tell stories.  Robert McKee, the author of Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting said it best, that telling [or writing] a story is “a universally human experience [that is wrapped] inside a unique, culture-specific expression.”

Storytelling Photo

 

We love to tell stories. Whether it is sharing with a friend about what we did or experienced during our day; listening to a grandparent tell us an unexpected tale from their past to reading a book or watching a movie – storytelling is all around us. 

But when it comes down to writing our own story, whether it is fact or fiction – a blank page or a computer screen can be very intimidating.

So as you begin your creative journey, you may ask: How do I write a story? Where do I start?  Here are some really basic, but essential building blocks to get you on your way to your own creative destination – your story.  And not just any story – a story that will entertain, inspire, and yes, even challenge a potential reader.

THE BUILDING BLOCKS OF NARRATIVE

Building Block1Antagonist – The opponent of the protagonist. The antagonist or villain is the main provider of the conflict in a story. He or she is commonly the enemy of the hero. Here are a few well-known antagonists: Wile E. Coyote in The Road Runner cartoon. Loki versus Thor in The Avengers, Darth Vader in Star Wars.

2. Character Archetype – A character type that repeatedly occurs in various literary genres – such as the hero or villain.  The basic characteristics of a character archetype that has been drawn from folk and fairy tales continue to be reproduced in modern day texts.  

3Character – Character is a text or media-based figure in a storyworld, usually human or human-like. The term “character” is used to refer to participants in a storyworld and in contrast to “persons” or individuals in the real world.

4. Characterization – the personality/idiosyncrasies of a character. Characterization also includes the external description of a character, as well as their thoughts and feelings.

5. Focalization – A selection or restriction of narrative information in relation to the experience and knowledge of the narrator, or the characters in the storyworld. It is through a character’s focalization that the reader can ‘see’, ‘hear’, and/or experience events in the storyworld.

6. Narrative – The representation of a story (an event or a series of events)

7. Plot – the order in which the story events are arranged in the narrative.

8. Protagonist – the hero or heroine of a story. Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games.

The protagonist can also be an anti-hero.

9. Setting – The background for a narrative’s storyworld. E.g. A beachside setting, an alien world.

10. Story – a chronological sequence of events involving characters. Story should not be confused with narrative discourse, which is the telling or presenting of a story. Traditionally, a story unfolds in a linear fashion, with a clearly defined, beginning, middle and end, but these rules or techniques can be broken.

Like in many films, a writer can start at the end, or even in the middle of all the action.

Stay tuned for more creative building blocks for storytelling.

 

References.

Porter Abbott 2008, ‘Glossary and topical index’, The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative, Second Edition, Cambridge University Press, New York.

Garry, Jane, El-Shamy, Hasan M., Eds, 2005, Archetypes and Motifs in Folklore and Literature: A Handbook, Sharpe, Inc., Armonk, NY, USA: M.E, ProQuest ebrary.

Hühn, Peter, Pier, John, Schmid, Wolf, Eds. 2009, Narratologia / Contributions to Narrative Theory: Handbook of Narratology, Walter de Gruyter, Berlin, DEU, ProQuest ebrary.

McKee, Robert 1997, Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting, First edition, Harper-Collins Publishers, Inc., New York.

Image.

http://karbocom.com