I have noticed an interesting trend in the Netflix original series that I pursue. Right from The Crown to Mindhunter to Stranger Things and Jessica Jones, Season 1 is usually plot heavy. It is like the makers want you to keep clicking on that next button and reach the end. But their Season 2 is character heavy, like they know if you have returned for the second season, you’re already invested in the story and now what they need from you is to actually finish Season 2. And for that they need you to care – about the characters and their journeys, triumphs, and tribulations.
While a plot pushes the story forward, characters are what keep you turning the pages, saying that epic line, “One last, I promise.” This was another thing I heard the Russos mentioning when talking about Captain America: The Winter Soldier. They said they didn’t write for the superhero because he’s a straight and narrow guy, who’s boring. They wrote for the character, Steve Rogers, because he is interesting, human and thus vulnerable and subject to doubts, fears and change.
I may be a poor planner, I mean I am no Kevin Feige or Reed Hastings, but characters are something I do spend some time creating – though not nearly as much as I would like.
For me, a character begins as a vague orb of light and not till I name this orb of light does it become corporeal. Names are crucial and I can spend days thinking of the perfect name. For example, the protagonist in my manuscript is a short girl who is a ray of hope for her village and her father is a woodcutter. Hence her name had to be Rey Birch. I wrote a fiction blog post on a man in a village who renounces his queen and then becomes the savior of his folks. I needed a name that would immediately convey to the reader that though he is a common man, he goes onto become a legend. Out popped the name Prachulakta.
Once the character is named, if I am writing a blog post, it stops there because you cannot spend too much time planning a 600-word story. You have to start writing it. If I am writing a novel/novella, the next step is to find a character flaw or some element that defines them. For example, Radha (the bestest character I ever created, after Rey of course) though has a loving home, has a learning difficulty and that informs almost everything he does.
Completing this trifecta is motivation – why does my character decide to leave his/her life behind and enter my plot. Hunter decides to chaperone Lola because he owes her his life. Romeo has no choice but to help Lola because she’s the only family left. Sal only enters the plot because he wants to help his sister Rey.
Physical attributes aren’t important to me – unless they inform me about a character. For example, it is important for me to know Logen Ninefingers is tall and has a crooked nose because it tells me he has been in one too many fights. All his scars are like a history of this character. JKR said she gave Harry glasses because she wanted him to be vulnerable. Rey is small for her age because she is deaf-mute.
All this information is important for the reader. Other than that, I don’t really bother with what my character looks like.
The setting and atmosphere also work great as characters but here you need to be careful on how much time and space you spend on them. Apologies for the blasphemy but Tolkien sometimes spent way too much time on this than was strictly necessary. A good rule to follow here is to ask yourself, does this serve a purpose or am I indulging myself? If you are indulging yourself, you know what to do – hit that delete button even if it pains you.
Question of the day: tell me a favourite character you have read/created. Why is he/she/it your favourite?
The whole of September, I will be sharing posts on things I have learnt about writing. I am taking my blog to the next level with Blogchatter’s #MyFriendAlexa.