This week’s video discusses a few ways to dig down to the sympathetic core of even the most uncooperative characters.
On a personal note, the time has finally come when I can officially announce the release date for my fantasy novel Dreamlander. December 2, 2012, is the big day! Which means I’ll be spending this month celebrating with a special series of video (and text) posts, discussing what I learned during my journey with this book. Today, I want to start off the series by talking about one of our most critical jobs, and that is creating sympathetic characters.
At first glance, this may seem like a no-brainer. After all, most of us write our stories based on our love for the main character. However, as was reinforced to me while writing this book, there are several levels of sympathetic characters. First, we have the characters that just come to life on the page. They’re real, they’re likable, and they’re a joy to write. But then you have the slightly more difficult characters. These are ones that don’t want to talk to the writer. They sulk in corners and just generally make you want to throw your laptop across the room.
If you can’t get at the heart of a character, how can you share that heart with the reader? I’ve found that the key is getting these characters to talk, whether internally or in dialogue, in the first draft itself or in extracurricular interviews. Just let loose on the page. At this point, your first goal is not necessarily to construct a scene, but rather to find two important facets of this character: his greatest need and his greatest fear, which will almost always be what’s keeping him from fulfilling his need.
Keep pushing this character. Keep asking him questions—either personally or through the medium of another character. Initiate conflict, because this is the best way to get a character to show his true colors. But, remember, you also want to make him sympathetic, even within his anger or whatever, which means you need to find the places where he’s hurting and show them to the reader.