"" Rob Parnell's Writing Academy Blog: Creating Characters in Fiction

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Creating Characters in Fiction

Welcome to this week's newsletter.

Stop!We've just released Robyn's latest novel. It's getting great reviews already.

It's about a young girl called Sam who hates to read - so much she wants to go live in Antarctica!

Worse - her mother's a writer.

You can download the first chapter from here.

In next week's Write On video  I'm answering YOUR questions.

If you want free publicity for you or your writing in the show, ask me a question and I'll give you a plug! Email rob@easywaytowrite.com


Creating Characters for Fiction

Rob Parnell

Most of us have a rudimentary list of things we like, love, hate and adore. 

We start putting together this list from the day we are born. 

However, these lists don't really define who we are. 

You'll have noticed that some people can go through their entire lives with lists of things that 
press their buttons while at the same time never really having a coherent philosophy that underpins their tastes and opinions.

A writer needs to go further - and take his or her thoughts about life and structure them into a grand scheme - a moral sense if you like. Rather than saying I hate this, I like that etc, the writer needs to be able to say why. 

I hate this because it represents whatever. I like that because it means whatever.

When describing fictional characters from an objective viewpoint it's important that the value judgments you hold do not taint the 'truthfulness' of your portraits. 

You cannot do this effectively if your reader has no faith in your basic worldview. Because, when you describe characters you have invented, it is not primarily for your own benefit - it is for your reader's. 

Therefore, in order to create believable characters, you must press all the right buttons in your reader - that is, appeal to their moral sense, their sense of what is true in their worldview.

When critics say your characters are not believable, they are not necessarily saying that your inventions are not credible. 

They are merely saying that, in their view, your truth is not apparent to them. And usually this is because your idea of what is true is not yet fully formed, objective and reasonable - at least not to the majority of readers' satisfaction - yet.


This is why you have to be very specific about what you want to say before you use a character to enunciate and expand on that premise.

If your premise - that is, the things you want to say through your fiction - is flawed, then no amount of great characters will help your story become more believable.

Therefore, before you invent any characters, you need to identify what you want to say, and whether that has any validity, truth or integrity attached.  

Your belief system is what defines the structure of your stories. It's the framework on which your plot sits. 

Therefore, if your beliefs are skewed or not in alignment with the reader's, your stories will lack credibility, no matter how well drawn your characters may be. 

Because it is only when your belief system is reasonable, eminently justifiable, rational and objective, that your characters can begin to exert any credible power of their own.

If you understand the foregoing argument, you'll understand why all the traditional advice on character creation: make them recognizable, sympathetic, quirky, interesting and different from each other etc won't help you in the slightest if your stories are flawed at the outset.

Your job is to work out exactly why it is you, in particular, want to tell stories.

Then, you can move on to how best you can do that...

The above article is a tiny excerpt from my Character Creation Masterclass, available in full here.

Keep writing!
 rob at home
"Education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance."
Will Durant

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