On Saturday I went to a writer’s group that I really enjoyed. (Shout out to Gigi…I think she’s the only one from that group who has checked out this blog so far. If you are from WWBC, let me know!) Their approach to a group critique is unique. Rather than have the author send out a sample chapter to everyone in the group who slices and dices it up a dozen different ways and then hands it back to the author with a glazed look in his/her eyes, they try to focus on the elements of your plot and make sure the characters are tight and your narrative structure is solid.
So, I received a few Character bio’s on Sunday and have been working on them ever since. It’s fun and challenging at the same time. It forces you to look at your characters in detail and flesh out some motivations about them that will be useful later on. It’s also enlightening because I have been able to rediscover characters I wrote years ago and learn new things about why they end up doing some of the things I’m going to have them do in my story. Part of me had to swallow my pride and be willing to learn something new. I had to be willing to take a character I’ve been talking to in my head for 8 years and admit that I might not know the most important aspects of who he/she is. In fact, I may know a lot about what they have done, but as far as who they are…well, just read!
I’m working on my Antagonist profile right now. The first section I had to fill out was Height, Weight. Hair and Eyes. Sounds boring, right? I scratched my head and through, “Who cares?” But I closed my eyes and throught, “What does my antagonist look like?”
Well, he’s short and skinny. Because he’s an antagonist, I’ll give him dark hair and eyes. Whatever. So I jot that down.
Now, here’s the cool part. Next I had to write something about his birth. Well, I knew that he was the second child of twins. And I also knew that the doctor did not realize there were two children until after the first one was born and the mother was still contracting.
“Now, what would cause a doctor to miss something like that,” I asked myself as I sipped on my coffee Sunday morning.
“BECAUSE HE’S VERY SMALL!” I said out loud! He’s a runt. I had already written that he was short and thin, why not make him a very small child from birth?
Then, his BEHAVIOR fell into place! You see, to make a round character, they can’t be so one dimensional as to be all bad, all the time. Even Darth Vader had a soft spot for kittens. (I bet you didn’t know that, did you) As my antagonist, why is he so cruel? Because deep down, he is really insecure about his stature. He is trying to lead a warrior class of knights in a feudal society and he is 5’8” and weighs 155 lbs. How threatening is he really going to be unless he developed a cruel streak as a young man to FORCE attention and respect?
Ahhh, now I was getting somewhere. But it gets better.
I knew that eventually he would form an alliance with a religious leader and the two of them would help each other’s objectives. I did this because one of the themes of my story is the separation of Church and State and I wanted to show a very unhealthy alliance in this particular instance. But, establishing that my antagonist is really a very small guy who has a really big Napoleon complex, I discovered something else. Why does he accept this alliance with a religious leader? Because he fears the damnation of his soul. He knows what he does is often wrong, and he knows that he will likely go to Hell for it. (Or my fantasy equivalent of damnation, actually, but I digress) I think on some deep level, my antagonist feels remorse and seeks validation from the Church for his actions. He wants redemption, but is unwilling to change his behavior. He has this inner conflict that is tearing him up inside: He knows his cruelty is going to damn his soul in the afterlife, but he can not appear to be weak or he will loose the respect of the Army he leads. He wants to feel affirmed by the Church, but can not go to the weekly Gatherings because of the guilt he feels!
Then, I started to get excited. I decided to add one more stroke to his character I had never thought about. I gave him an affliction. Asthma. I decided that since it was fantasy, the medicine will not be as advanced, but more to the point, it will give me a great opportunity to play on this fear he has of losing his soul. When he has an asthma attack and his lungs begin to constrict, he fears that it is a demon eating away inside of him. He becomes terrified and retreats inside until he can breathe again. Because of this, HE RARELY GOES OUTSIDE!
Now, I know most of you do not know my story, or who my antagonist is. But what I was excited about was that by filling out this basic profile, I was able to learn more about him than I ever knew by just playing around with him for 7 years, tossing the poor guy into scene after scene and writing what happened next.
I encourage you to take a moment to think about just ONE character of your story and fill out a bio on him or her. You can find all kinds of examples online or at a bookstore if you go into the RPG section and pull out a Dungeon’s & Dragons Source book. (Or Star Wars, or Vampires…whatever floats your boat)
I would love to hear something you learned about your characters you never knew before after you took some real time to fill out a bio sheet on them.
Tell me about the Characters you are meeting for the first time.