Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Do Your Characters Poop?


Do Your Characters Poop?

Create Interesting Characters, Not Brooding Turnoffs?

In 8 Ways to Write Better Characters, author Elizabeth Sims realizes, looking back on her first manuscript, that its shortcoming was "poor character development." Sims says of her characters, "The kids just don't pop."  I, being half blind, read, "The kids just don't poop."

Elizabeth, of course, didn't say "poop," but take a moment and think about it: how anal retentive were you being when you developed your characters?  Did you bedevil them with a mish-mash of personality traits--all narrowly detailed or imbalanced--that made your emotionally troubled characters unlikable?

Let's not go into your characters' potty training--or yours.  Rather, let's ask simply if your characters lack that certain je ne sais quoi that makes them interesting despite brooding minds and personality flaws. Think Professor Humbert, who obsesses over twelve-year old Dolores Haze. He's a sicko, but we can't quit reading Lolita.  Rhett Butler is also a personality many women today would find over-bearing, yet frankly, he and Professor Humbert are both fascinating.

Since Lolita and Gone With the Wind, characters have grown more "over the top," "edgy," and "dark," but they've grown--in Freudian parlance--less in-your-face emotionally, less raw and real (in my opinion).  However, they're still beautiful memorable misfits that pop for readers.  Think of the Bella Swans and Edward Cullens, the Anastasia Steeles and Christian Greys.  Do they not have those ineffable personalities readers enjoy so much they speak of them like family? 

Leverage Your Characters' Group or "Power Dynamic"

How easy is it to develop a Professor Humbert, a Rhett Butler, or a Christian Grey?  How can you make your darkly brooding or disagreeable characters pop? As Sims points out, there are many things you can do, but one tip among the eight she offers, which I find helpful, is her idea of leveraging the group. We're "students of human nature," says Sims, so shrinking our characters and analyzing their group dynamic is both necessary and fun.  Thus, we need to pay attention to what our characters do in groups.  I immediately thought of Lord of the Flies.

The key, however, isn't just analyzing group behavior.  You must leverage it, us it to enhance and develop your characters' personalities.  Sims identifies three works that "[ . . . ] use group dynamics to gripping effect," and then lists Richard Hughes' A High Wind in Jamaica, Kathryn Stockett's The Help, and David Mamet's play, Glengarry Glen Ross.  Sims breaks down the inter-relationships and how each contributes to making the characters more likable and dynamic.

In a previous post, Fouc U 101: Using Foucault to Enhance Characters' Power Dynamic, I also show how you can analyze and use your characters' power dynamic, basically by dismissing your inner narcissist and avoiding the use of descriptive narrative as a mode.  In this and future posts, I'll be providing more "how to" tips on using your characters' power dynamic to develop your characters.

Helpful Links

McFarland, Mary H.  Fouc U 101: Using Foucault to Enhance Characters' Power Dynamic
Sims, Elizabeth: http://www.writersdigest.com/writing-articles/by-writing-goal/improve-my-writing/8-ways-to-write-better-characters

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