The Writer’s Wheel 5/24/2020: Settling on Your Characters
What makes you choose your characters? A dream? A picture? Something from a song? A walk in nature? Do they pop up fully formed or do you need to think on them a bit? There are as many answers as there are ways to discover a character for your story.
What Then Makes You “Keep” a Character?
As I revise each draft of my WIP, my characters go through many different versions. Sometimes they just don’t “sound” write to me. Other times, they don’t perform the role their written for. It might need a different character is needed in their place. Or maybe none at all. Sometimes characters fade in the background or get blended into another character when two or more wouldn’t be needed.
What makes me keep a character? They fulfill their role. That means I couldn’t imagine any other character in that part. They’ve earned their keep so to say. Imagine for an instance, anyone else is Katniss Everdeen’s shoes. Neither the book nor the actress you played her in the movies could’ve assumed the part if they couldn’t slip into the part. What about, John McLane in Die Hard? John Wick? Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator? Likewise, in literature, how about Harry Potter in A Tale of Two Cities? Or Macbeth in Moby Dick? The characters would’ve stuck out like a sore thumb. Make sure who you choose should be there.
Sometimes a character will refuse to go where you lead. Perhaps because you’ve made an error that needs corrected. Are they playing to character? Meaning, would given what you know of them, they follow this path? Or are you trying to push them into something they wouldn’t do? Would Hermione have played the coward? Did you back the Lion King into a wall? Characters are true to themselves. Back up if you’re having trouble and make sure that they’d really make that decision.
Are you putting words into their mouths? Would they say something like that or would they select other choices? Listen to them. Close your eyes if you have to. Picture them. Follow them through the choice. Did they divert from what you wrote? Does it ring true to their character? They may be saving you a lot of time when they balk. Better to find out now then fifty drafts down the road.
Do They Plug into the World Well?
Did you create the world or the characters first? Would the characters you’ve chosen slip into the world you’ve created? Or would they be out of place? Raggedy Ann and Andy in today’s theater? Barney Fife in Jaws? Crocodile Dundee in the Old West? Think of your world. Given the environment and the conditions what character would suit it? The character of IT would not do well in Water world, for instance. There’s nowhere to hide. Nowhere to lure victims to. Likewise, Captain Kirk would be an oddball in Robin Hood: Men in Tights. Lucille Ball in Friday the 13th. They just wouldn’t play to character. Who they are would have to change drastically?
Don’t think your readers wouldn’t notice. Spoiler Alert! In Rambo: Last Blood, the character was so far removed from who he’d been in the other movies that he just wasn’t believable. Sure, he was dealing with drug dealers. But are they so different from terrorists that he wouldn’t have known better than to go charging in there with no more than a knife and pistol? Instead of saving his niece, he gave the dealers days to abuse her while he lay near death. And what did it get him in the end? Sure, getting revenge had some great action sequences but wouldn’t it have been better if he’d been able to bring the war to them in the first place?