Creating Characters

As I get ready for my next try at writing a novel, I’m reminded through books, movies and television that characters matter. My last few posts have been directed as reading as a writer. If I’ve learned anything during this effort is that strong characters can carry a story.

A great idea for a book is just that – a great idea. Who’s going to carry out that great idea? The characters, of course. Through world building and creating characters a great idea can become a reality. In my first novel I believe I might have suffered from a great idea and not a solid foundation for world building and strong characters. There were inconsistencies in my world and the characters I created might have been flat.

To remedy this going forward, I outlined my novel. It’s actually missing an ending but I’m hoping that’ll flush itself out as start writing. My next project will be to create characters. Develop a few characters that I know well enough to put them into a story. Finally, create a world for my characters to play in. See what kind of trouble they can get into which will eventually turn into my novel.

This is a much different approach than my first novel. Last time, I sketched out my novel, developed a few characters, and didn’t even bother do a world building exercises. I lost my way few times while writing. This was evident after a couple rewrites. A new approach will hopefully address those gaps and tighten up the narrative.

I found a couple of links worth mentioning for anyone needing help creating characters:

There are plenty resources out there to get started, and above is what I’ve to be helpful.

Oryx and Crake

My continuing effort to read as a writer has landed me in the world of Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake. It’s a wonderful dystopian novel that is poetic in its descriptions. From the first page, the tone is bleak and you already have an idea of how the book ends. Getting there is the interesting part and worth reading.

Atwood tells the story of Jimmy in the present and how he got to his certain position in life. Most of the book is told in flashback on Jimmy’s part. I haven’t read a book told in this manner, which I found refreshing. I found the jumping back and forth between the past and present helped with the tempo. Just when you’ve had enough of Jimmy’s bleak present you’re transported back to his past to explain something.

The poetic descriptions I mentioned above are the downside. I felt that Atwood went off the deep end in describing. The first few pages were a great example. After the first page, I knew Jimmy was living in a post-apocalyptic world. I felt that the description, while well-done, served as too much. I was already wanting to move forward but Atwood wouldn’t let me.

The science fiction was pretty cool. Although I’ve read that Atwood doesn’t like the term sci-fi but speculative fiction – whatever. It’s not to hard sci-fi that I feel I’m reading a college text book and not too soft that it’s a children’s book. The focus is about bio-corporations that splice animal DNA then start to try on humans to develop pills, procedures, etc that make them younger, sexier, smarter, happier, and so on. I won’ t reveal too much more but Jimmy is part of major catastrophe involving some aggressive splicing.

I plowed through this book and almost forgot to read as a writer at a few points. No question the writing is good. Certain passages are long and drawn out but this book delivers beyond just science fiction. It probably more literary driven now that I’m looking back at it. Much like I mentioned in Starship Troopers, O and C is character driven. Learning how these characters grow through the novel is fascinating. Moreover, floating back and forth with Jimmy paints a haunting picture of what could have been with love and success. All the while there is a science fiction theme in the back drop.

Reading as a Writer – Part II

I finished Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers about two weeks but haven’t had a chance to follow-up. It was an interesting read to say the least. Starship Troopers is considered a science fiction classic. Written in 1959, the book was considered controversial because of its military as well as social themes. I’ll stop there; this post is about the writing.

In part I, I mentioned how Heinlein created a world and I entered it. Information came sparingly but enough to keep me reading. There was no info dump that I can recall. What I noticed about this book is how Heinlein molds the main character (also the narrator) from a naive boy entering the military to a confident battle worn man. The development of this character is basically the book with a science fiction back drop.

I find this critical and now start understand what a character driven novel really means. I guess I really never understood what character driven meant, but really paying attention to what Heinlein’s trying to accomplish I get it. The whole aspect of a war with a bug alien race is secondary to a young man’s development.

So if the book was written the other way around where the war against the bugs was primary and the character secondary – would it be as interesting? Maybe. The challenge would be to constantly have action and move the story forward. I wouldn’t care about the characters as much or even find them boring. It’s clear that complex characters make a book interesting; they’re short comings, dreams, fears, desires, wants, etc.

While I’m mentioning character driven stories, I caught The Walking Dead this Sunday and it did not disappoint! Zombies were the back drop but the characters pull you in instantly. I believe this the only way something like The Walking Dead gets produced.  Think about it, if it was all zombies all the time, ratings wouldn’t be great. Have the characters drive the story and draw you in – it’s a success! The show lived up to the hype and I look forward to watching it develop.