BrownEyed is a freelance writer from her home in the beautiful city of Melbourne, Australia. Originally hailing from a software background, BrownEyed took the plunge and traded her full-time job in software for a freelancer’s life in writing seven months back. Since then, she has worked on many assignments like articles, e-books, websites, and newsletters. Recently, she signed a 3-book deal as a ghostwriter. Before going to bed, BrownEyed enjoys two hours of reading non-fiction, memoirs and literary-type or YA fiction. You can find her musing and reflections here<http://www.browneyedmystic.wordpress.com/>
Lately, I’ve been reading Donald Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. The book is Miller’s self-inspection with quirky anecdotes and outlandish characters. While the book revolves around different aspects of Miller’s life, and tries to make his otherwise boring existence into a meaningful, interesting narrative (and in my opinion, succeeds in it too), this is not the only reason I quote it. Miller has hidden writing tips about characterisation in his book which I totally adore. At times they are in-your-face, but at other times you are on a scavenger-hunt of sorts. He contends how a character sometimes protests with the writer’s plot and how, at times, due to the character’s incessant protests the story suffers. What’s interesting is an analogy Miller draws between God and humans. What if God is the all-knowing writer and we, the characters of his story? And what if he threw hurdles in our paths and we kept protesting that the story be changed? What if, just as our characters give us a headache when they don’t comply with the plot, we are doing the same to God, our life-story creator? Why not experience life the harder way then, face challenges, take up the path less travelled, and evolve like we want our characters to? That’s a fascinating thought.
Characters in our stories will never be rooted for if they just sit on the couch and, well . . . sit on the couch. Characters won’t be cheered if they continue taking the easy way. It is true and if you don’t believe me think of your favourite book. Does not the protagonist want something? Moreover, does not the protagonist wantsomething and overcome a conflict so that they get what they want? They do, right?
Whether your reader will love your character and keep turning pages of your book or put your book down to browse through the TV channels depends on you, the writer. Chances are they will lose interest in the story because the character is too shy to participate, too scared to move ahead, too ignorant to have any goals. An excess of anything that’s preventing your characters to dive in the wild waters is to be cut off. It could be an excess of riches, or an excess of adversity. In both the cases, the character may be unmotivated to take any action. They would want to continue in their abode of sameness, where unforeseen events are best avoided. You need to shake them up, and make them embrace change. Give them a shock of their lives so that they have to get off their butts, take action and overcome a sort of conflict within or without and evolve in the process.
Even the tiny cells in our body change every six months. Every old cell in the skin and bone dies and a new one takes its place. Change, not stagnancy, is the key. Characters too must go through such a change. For this, the characters must have some goals and inner drives.
Say for example Jon has a goal to avoid social contact. He has issues with self-respect and he doesn’t want to make a fool of himself in front of a crowd. Worst, he stammers when he talks. Jon will avoid a party or a crowd at any cost. Now, put Jon in a strategic position when he has to face a crowd. How about his boss choosing him to give a presentation in another city? The boss has a last minute commitment and he can’t go. He asks Jon to cover up for him. This is known as an “inciting incident”. It causes a stir within the character. What will Jon do? How will he face the bunch of executives? Will he succeed? It is important to note that though Jon may fail at the presentation, he hasn’t failed at his life. In fact, he has been brave enough to experience a conflict. The readers will identify with Jon. They will love him and want to be there for him, depending on how he faces his failure. The readers want to see him trying at least. They want to vouch for him. Give the readers a chance to support your character. Let them sympathise!
In the end, your character must emerge as someone who’s different from what they were when they had begun. Facing the conflict changes them in some substantial way. It may be emotional, physical or both. If your story is great, it will bring about some good change. That’s the golden rule.