Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Are You Your Own Character?

For actors to act their parts, they must come as close to being the person they are representing by their acting. They must put themselves into the mind and heart of the character. If an actor allows himself to show through, then he is not acting, but merely memorizing script and reciting words. Great actors become great by studying the character to a point that they seem to lose their identity and take on the character’s identity.

Same as with writing, if we keep coming in, injecting our thoughts and our personality into the plot, characters, and interaction between the characters, our characters will be flat and our plot will be boring. I am not saying that we are boring, but be realistic and honest with yourself. Would you want to read about you? Honesty? Unless you are a celebrity or great inventor of great things, most people get bored while reading ordinary life experiences.

We read the exceptional, the exotic, the strange, the bizarre, romance, and anything that will help us take our minds off ourselves for a few moments. If we write only how WE feel, how WE would react in a certain situation, then the character has no chance to break free from us. Get to know the characters – be daring. Inflict some pain on them, see how THEY react, not how YOU react.

Read a riddle to someone and watch their reaction to the hidden, but so obvious answer, and watch their face light up when they hear the answer. People thrive on the unexpected, the twist or uncommon reaction to a situation. If you are like most people, those quick on your feet responses normally come way passed the opportunity to say them. Heroes are born when they react in uncommon ways. Even your antagonist can grab the reader with his wit and charm.

Last week, I read about a man who got a job by his answer to a riddle. No one else interviewed for the job answered it quite as he did. There was no wrong answer, but his answer made him stand out.

If you were driving along in your Mercedes and saw three people were waiting at a bus stop, an old woman needing to get to the hospital, a friend who once saved your life, and the future love of your life. There is only room for one passenger in your car. Which one would you give a ride, the old woman to save her life, the friend to whom you are indebted with your life, or the mate meant for you?

His answer: I would give the keys to my friend, thus paying that debt, and while he takes the old woman to the hospital, I would stay with my future love of my life.

I couldn’t find the exact wording of that interview question again, but I think you know what I am getting at. He created his own options, a fourth choice outside the expected answers. People love characters that can do the unexpected, say the unexpected and react perfectly to situations that come their way. I feel it must be that we normally look in our own mirrors and say, “I should have said that.”

People don’t read books for the ordinary. They read them for the extraordinary, the sensation of victory over weakness, villains, and obstacles in ways we could never imagine. They want short and to the point dialogue without a lot of boring explanation or rambling. The most remembered lines are those that are very short with a punch of a thousand words. Make your characters a picture worth a thousand words.


If you have a favorite link to writing memorable characters, please share.


  1. Great post! Love what you wrote: "People don't read books for the ordinary, but the extraoridnary!" So true. Sometimes I try to think of a personality of a character in a movie I might have seen and use it as a starting point and then I develop other traits.

  2. Hi Jennifer, thanks for dropping by.

    Even thinking about writing gets me excited. One-liners, words of wisdom, and wit are always good sources of inspiration.

    I bought the entire series of Highlander just to study the main character's unusual calm reaction to bad situations. He didn't seem to require anger or that mocho attitude to be the best. He had a quiet confidence.

    I worked some of that character's traits into my king in a book.

    Building characters is much like making friends. Only, we can back up and say the things we wished we would have said when the moment was best.

    I checked out your blog and website. Nice!

    For the past two weeks I have been job hunting and spring cleaning...sorry for taking so long to respond.