This week has been all about exploring ways to create characters. As a recap for myself, this is the gist of what was presented and my ramblings around it:
- A discussion of characters needing conflict: boiled down to Character + Conflict = Plot. So the idea is that we create these characters but it is by testing them to breaking point that we really show what they are like. Some instinct makes me disagree with this but I can’t argue my corner. I suppose I don’t think the challenges need to be quite that extreme – we put them in scenes and situations and then watch them work their way out of them. Isn’t this what “Lord of the Rings” is all about? Surely plot leads those characters?
- One quote from an extract written by Josip Novakovich: “Whether or not there’s a change in you, character is not the part of you that conforms, but rather, that sticks out. So a caricaturist seeks out oddities in a face”. I liked this – I think it could help me enrich character descriptions.
- The idea of the flaw as generating plot: this immediately makes me think of Shakespearean tragedies but it doesn’t have to be that grand. What makes people behave in a certain way and what may then ensue from their quirks – again, for me I think this will be helpful to bear in mind when writing. It will draw out cause and effect in a more character-rooted way.
- Flat and round characters: the whole section on enriching stereotypes did not work for me at all. Why start with a stereotype in the first place? Nobody is ever just a stereotype; everyone is complex. The ones listed were so dull I couldn’t imagine doing anything with them. Then again, I read some of the ideas posted up – one or two here and there were absolute quirky genius so that told me not to be so sniffy about the exercise! I noticed that the ones I liked had real heart and emotion to them, a subtlety and a delicacy that would make me want to read more about them.
- Back to Novakovich again for his four ways of creating characters: “Ideal” (concepts and ideas-based), “autobiographical” (based on yourself), “biographical” (based on others you have observed) and “mixed” (a combo of the others). I agreed with one comment – this seemed a bit like giving fancy names to something most people probably do quite naturally.
Pretty much all my characters are extrapolated from people I have known, with the exception of one that is spun off from myself and one who departed so far from the original inspiration that he has taken on a life all of his own. I do find it very hard indeed to conceive of characters outside a plot – I think this is a reason I have found this week’s tasks so difficult. Only once I’d developed a story around a character could I feel there was any interest or mileage in them. Perhaps if I was more gifted with description to conjure up a person I’d feel differently but I’m all too quickly afflicted with a great weariness of “what’s the point?” when I start writing about someone in isolation. The idea of coming up with a character and then giving them a conflict to see what happens just doesn’t work for me at all.
This week has made me think and I did (almost) enjoy the exercises of creating characters but I’m not sure I learnt a great deal from it apart from the couple of points I picked out above. Mixed feelings at the moment about this MOOC – will see how next week goes. I am tempted by two literature-focussed courses which start next week. Can’t do them all – my allegiance may be tested…