Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Making characters real: problems and crises

Clara Bow in 'Wings' (1927) (sourced from Wikipedia Commons)One of the ways you can make characters 'real' to yourself and to your readers is by giving them problems: real issues they have to struggle against and which readers can appreciate, empathise with and care about. To add to conflict and interest, characters can have more than one problem or issue to contend with.

Here are some problems characters can have:

1. Divorce - getting one, being divorced, starting over.

2. Being widowed - guilt, grief and starting over.

3. A child dying - for an added twist, the theme of a child given away at birth to adoption or who’s lost touch with parents through separation or divorce. Feelings of a the feeling that parent when that child dies or is killed. For child given away to adoption, now that child will never get in touch.

4. Identity - race, class, families. Who parents, sister, brother, grandmother, etc., are or were. Also what were their true natures?

5. A stranger who claims to be a relative getting in touch for first time or after a gap of many years. A missing relative suddenly appearing out of nowhere.

6. Loss of a job, parent, family member, home or lover.

7. Guilt - real or imagined.

8. A secret - it's being discovered, having to tell it, needing to keep it, having to overcome it.

9. Emotion - jealousy, possessiveness, inability to feel, coldness, anger, blinding hated, feelings of being unfairly treated or victimised, resentment, smothering love, fear of being left alone.

10. Time - juggling lives, fiting everything in, deciding when to have a child, deciding when to change jobs or when to move.

11. Neighbours or others’ dislike and resentments. Possibly some active and dangerous hatred.

12. Nature and environment - storms, fire, flood, dangerous animals, dangerous seas and skies. Quieter problems of nature - for instance for a sculptor: will this stone or wood crack? Or for a photographer: will this light or scene last?

13. Relationships - older man and younger woman, younger man and older woman, different faiths or cultures, different classes. The relationship of young man or woman with a stepchild older or as old as himself or herself. The relationship of a stepparent to a stepchild, or between new step-siblings - a sudden new sister, for instance, or brother.

14. Ill health - the character's own, or the illness of a parent, brother, sister or lover.



Jen Childers said...

These are great ideas.
When we think of the characters we've loved, the ones who endure.
Darth, spock, Rhett Butler, we know them so well, we could put them in a story and know how they would react.

Its a skill I'm trying to perfect.

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