Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Create the Perfect Fictional Character

Have you ever wondered the process behind realistic characters a writer creates? A person you would actually love to meet or would tremble in their very presence? The truth is fictional characters are more than figments of the writer’s juicy imagination. These characters are a compilation of multiple attributes blended together perfectly after trial and error. Do you remember the paper dolls you used to cut out as a kid? Well if not PLAY ALONG! Let this doll represent, a one dimensional character ,the kind of character that seems to weave itself around plot lines while dragging short stories to the rejection pile. This doll has no voice, no stylized presence. It just sits and does nothing. However if we start with some basics our character will seemingly come alive.

The rudimentary attributes, or level one as I call them, any writer should start with are: Gender, age, height, weight, hair color, eye color, race and skin color. However you should realize that race and skin color are two different things. Race is the cultural group that you effectively belong to and skin color defines the strength or lack of melatonin in your skin. One dictates how your character makes choices based on their cultural upbringing, one determines how your character is seen by the reader.

The second level, or the socioeconomic background of your character, is the true heart and essence of your character. The more specific you are the more your character becomes its own person and less of you! You should have at least the top ten second level attributes: Level of education, current income, religious background, Parental background (single parent vs. married), siblings, brood number( single child, middle child or youngest) criminal back ground, sexual orientation, Marriage status, Political affiliation. You could also include things like medical history, drug allergies or phobias but only if they are relevant to your story i.e., a fear of oceans that prevents your character from rescuing a loved one from a rip tide.

The last level or the voice level is something even I have a problem with time to time. It is hard to capture the deep twang of a Texan’s speech when you are used to hearing people from Brooklyn speak. It is also hard to capture the pattern of a person’s speech. Not everyone speaks in complete sentences or whole words. What really helps is to find a quiet spot in a mall or a restaurant (note try not to look so conspicuous it’s that whole homeland security thing) and with a pen and pad write down words and phrases you hear. For instance I constantly hear the phrase, “Do you know what I mean?” being shortened to, “Naah Meeen” or “What is up?” to “Sup.” With this level it is appropriate to add oddities or idiosyncrasies to the way your character speaks. This only adds flavor. Like the person who whistles when they talk or constantly click their teeth. Have fun when building your character who knows you might become the next best thing.


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