Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Creating Characters

I am going to switch gears today back to writing – specifically creating interesting characters. However, this ties in, in an interesting way, with virtual worlds. When you create an avatar in Second Life, you are, in effect, creating a fictional character. The benefit of virtual worlds over writing in this case, is that you get to test your character and debug it through interactions with other people. Try doing that in a novel. But, before I digress too far, let me get back to the topic of creating characters.

One of the most common questions asked of fiction writers, after the question - where do you get your story ideas - is – where do your characters come from? The simple answer is that they come from your imagination. But, that obvious answer is not satisfying to most people. In fact, it is not entirely true. First of all, you cannot get characters from your imagination until you have developed that capacity. So the answer really should be that characters come from your imagination once you have learned how to create them. No wonder it is an unsatisfying answer. We have gone from one unanswerable question – where do characters come from? ; to another seemingly unanswerable question – how do you develop that capacity? Actually, this second question is answerable.

People who study narrative arguments call that stuff laying around in your head, or more specifically in your imagination, fabula. It is the stuff from which you create characters, settings, and plots. So, the question now is reduced to the question of how to you develop the fabula needed to create a character. And this question we can answer more directly. You get the fabula needed to construct characters from one of two places. You can get it from either fictional characters or real characters. Fictional characters are found, as you might expect, in literature, movies, television and the like. Real characters are the people around you.

Went I wrote the Wentworth stories I used real people as characters and modified them to suit the needs of the story. And this brings us to the next step in creating characters. You begin with ideas and then you need to practice with them. You can't learn to cook without actually cooking. And you can't learn to create characters without actually attempting to create them.

"But," you might object, "why would I want to invest the time in learning to create characters if I am not planning to be a fiction writer?" And the answer is that the ability to create interesting characters has wide utility far beyond simply writing fiction. And we will get into that next time.

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