The 4 kinds of characters:
- Those who never change, nor does their motivation (Stephanie Plum & James Bond)
- Those who don’t change but their motivations change: this character’s beliefs and personality don’t change, but what he wants changes as a result of the story events. Heroes and villains.
- Those who change throughout the story although their motivation does not change: this character’s personality and overriding beliefs change regardless of the attainment of his goals. The single goal gives the work unity and comprehensibility while satisfying the reader with a comment on life. The character may get what he wants, but may be dissatisfied.
- Those who change along with their motivation: this character /plot is the most complex as his personality and beliefs are changes AND his desire changes as well. Aim toward this style: a progressive motivation (changing desire) and a character with internal changes.
Show motivations by:
-dictated by another: detective novels
-dialog between characters talking about the character in question
-the character’s action (try 2-3 attempts to attain the desire)
The key to juggling motivation and change is to dramatize it! Write in scenes.
Prompt: Write a short scene about the worst visitor who ever darkened your character’s doorway. How is the interaction between the host and guest going to change the host’s personality and desires? Dramatize it. (From Wood, The Pocket Muse)
Adapted from: Alice LaPlant, The Making of a Story, A Norton Guide to Creative Writing 2007, Nancy Kress, Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint, Writers Digest Books, 2005, Robert Olen Butler, From Where We Dream, Grove Press, 2005
Your character wants more than one thing and probably her desires are in opposition. An example of this we can all understand: She values being slim—she’s a lifetime member of Weight Watchers. But she values rich sugar-laden desserts—she craves them in fact. She’d kill for a profiterole right now…. You get the idea! Conflicting desires are the heart of complex characterization and tense, compelling writing.
A plausible and complex character will have a couple of strong desires that are in conflict. This is like life. It feels real to the reader and gives you a chance to further characterize through showing how and which desire he chooses.
Dramatize small incidents of conflicting values in scenes. Build these small choices to foreshadow the larger choices to come. She is going to choose values or desires that demonstrate her personality. Be sure to write-in the character’s attitude toward the choice. Think, mixed feelings. Remember, narration and back story will help here, but the riskiest way to inform the reader is through narration. Be sure that the narration doesn’t just recap what the reader already knows. It needs to deliver new information or a new perspective. Dialog is a good medium to use. Try having your secondary characters talk about the character with the conundrum.
- Identify what emotions the character is feeling.
- Double check that you’ve laid the groundwork for the mixed feelings by dramatizing the causes of each in earlier scenes.
- Decide how you want to portray two contradictory feelings: in the same scene, in alternate scenes, through narrative, through character thoughts, or through some combination of techniques.
- Include emotional indicators (sensory language, gesture, expression, etc.) for the reader to share in each emotion the character feels.
Prompt: What if you really did what you want to do? (Wood, The Pocket Muse)
Write a flash fiction or short story in the first person on what would happen if the character went ahead and did what (s)he always secretly wanted to do. Show your reader how this big desire might be in direct conflict with the character’s values and develop the process of choosing.
“I want to satisfy the undisclosed desires in your heart”
Emotion drives behavior, behavior drives story. ~Nancy Kress
What’s happening in a story is most often happening to a character. Characters and plot intersect in several ways:
A character can create a plot point through action—the character does something and the story is a step closer to completion. (This applies to creative non-fiction too.)
A character can be acted upon by others, by nature, by God, and can create another plot point by reacting.
A character can remember things. Flashbacks are character-rich plotting devices that can give the reader information from the character’s backstory. Flashbacks don’t need to be told in chronological order.
Plot points can also be created by the imagining of the character. This could be a dream, a fantasy, a daydream, or a projection. An excellent example of this device can be seen in Flannery O’Conner’s Everything that Rises Must Converge. Notice how the son’s wild imaginings affect the plot.
Using your own list of characters, write or rewrite a story from the POV of a minor character. How does the plot change?
More reading: Junot Diaz The Sun The Moon The Stars
Tobias Wolff The Rich Brother
Julia Alvarez The Rudy Elmhurst Story