The Media Muse: Character Development 2

For everyone who has read more than one book, movie, TV show, or what-have-you that tells a story in their life, they often find themselves thinking, “I like so-and-so over this guy,” or “what’s-his-face is so awesome!” and occasionally, “This guy is the lamest character to ever be put into ink.” If you’re like me, your positive reaction is “Why couldn’t I write that? They’re so cool!” and your negative is “This guy drives me crazy, I could do better than that!” For us writers, fitting characters from other authors into either category not only widens our Creative Universe (that place in our mind that produces our writing) but also shows glimpses of our own style.

First, everyone has an opinion about what makes a good character, and what makes a bad one. I’m not talking about characters who are “good” in the story (there are many characters out there that I just love to hate), but the ones who come alive for us on the page and really click with us. If this doesn’t make sense, check out my previous post: An Interior Populace: Character Development 1. For the writer who doesn’t want to plagiarize (and I admit its tempting sometimes), they must take that “I love this character” thought and dig a little deeper; “What is it about this character that I like?”

Sometimes the answer is obvious, and sometimes you have to really consider it. There are often many things about a good character that you like, but the most important thing to look for is that “defining attribute” about them that really appeals to you. Let me give you an example…

I love to read Japanese manga. One of the series that I follow is the well-known title Naruto. When I first heard about it, I thought it was a little kid’s series and didn’t expect much; but after I sat down to read, I came up for air again and discovered that I had plowed through 6 volumes and had cliffhanger jitters. Why? The plot isn’t geared towards my age range. The main character is a real knucklehead. The supporting characters aren’t shockingly extraodinary. So why have I now read through volume 50 and hate it when that same knucklehead main character get too little screen time? Well, the obvious answer is that I really love that knucklehead main character, and I think the way Masashi Kishimoto developed him was excellent. But what exactly is it about Naruto the character that I really love? It didn’t take me too long to figure it out: I love his endurance and inner strength. As he says himself, “I’ll never give up!”

Once you can figure out just what it is about those characters you love in other people’s works, you can re-direct those attributes into your own characters. Conversely, when you read something with a character you can’t stand, ask yourself, “what is it about this character that drives me to toss this book out the window?” Knowing what you don’t like in a character is just as useful as knowing what you do like. And why is that, you ask? Because you as the creator should love (or at least like) the characters you create. After all, if you don’t like them, how do you expect anyone else to?

So how do you find what you like in characters so that you can meld them into your own creations? That’s an easy one, my dear Watson! Sit down and read a book! Watch a movie! Tune into a TV show with a plot you’re interested it! Find what you like, and then try to find out why. Use that wonderful media muse. And when you’ve got an idea on what you like, it’s time to start piecing together your people.

And then what? Stay tuned for character development part 3!

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. wovenstrands
    Feb 18, 2011 @ 23:47:54

    Omg, my sister is in love with Naruto, the show, she owns the game and everything, well, she’s sixteen. Since she lives overseas, she has to wait until the episode comes out onto Youtube. I never really got into it, but I loved “The Last Airbender”. I watched every episode, my hubby thought I was crazy, but you’re right, the main character is a ditz and I loved him, hehe.


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