This week: Getting to Know Your CharactersEdited by: Kittiara
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What is the biggest 'this is totally out of character' moment you've had with a book, movie or TV series? If you're anything like me, it can throw you right out of a story.
Getting to know your characters as a writer is very important, then. It can take time, but that's okay!
This week's Drama Newsletter is all about that special bond that we form with our characters.
What is it like for you when you first meet your characters? Do they make themselves known fully straight away, or does it take some time to become well-acquainted?
I am not the most organised writer and this, perhaps, is why I tend to get to know my characters as I join in on their adventures. I have never been one for character sheets and plot outlines. In fact, it is not uncommon for me to sit down in front of a blank page without a clue as to what I am going to write. I’ll not know what I am waiting for, but then I’ll catch a glimpse of scene, or an opening line, and I’ll take hold of it and go from there. I’ve even written NaNo novels that way – no idea of what I am going to write until November 1st, and then all of a sudden words happened.
Sometimes I think that it would be nice if characters introduced themselves to me before wanting me to write down their stories. It would certainly help me keep things consistent. People, on the whole, have quite stable personalities, and knowing these personalities helps prevent the creation of those moments that feel completely out of character.
That does not mean that characters cannot change, of course. Just like anyone else they can learn and grow. That’s the whole point of character development. This development can also be in a less desirable direction, because life can get to us and make us less enthusiastic, less hopeful, less kind. Hopefully, such setbacks are temporary, but that is not always the case.
When, however, you get to know a character as a reader and that character goes on to behave in a manner very much contrary to their established personality it can pull you right out of the story. It may make you flick back through the book, make you wonder what you missed. It can even be slightly upsetting when you’re emotionally invested in a character and their storyline and everything you thought was true about them, well, isn’t. And it’s not even a twist that you didn’t see coming. Something that makes sense when you think back. It’s just this weird inconsistency that may well put you off investing in that author’s next work.
It makes me think about the Game of Thrones TV series. I know that I should be over it by now, but it was such a good series and then it got messed up by Tyrion turning from a smart, witty man into someone whose conversation mainly revolved around the same old jokes and Dany, who always cared about the poor and the vulnerable, who always protected women and children, suddenly just unleashing her wrath upon them. Or even Dany forgetting about the Iron Fleet despite her having just looked at the maps… Not to mention what happened with Jaime. It's too painful.
As writers, then, we have to be careful. We have to learn about our characters and respect their personalities and we have to respect our readers, too, who invest their time and their emotions in our work. Sometimes, it may take us all the way through a novel and beyond to get to know a character. It may well be that once we have written our story we have to go back and use our improved understanding to adjust the storyline and make everything fit. That’s okay. We all tend to have to go over our work several times.
It’s so worthwhile, though, isn’t it, that bond that we form with our characters? They are a part of us, yet it feels as though they have a life of their own. Each and every one of them is special in their own way. They touch our hearts and, if we are fortunate, they will forever live on in the hearts of our readers.
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