Monday, June 23, 2014

Character Analysis Part 2!

Oh goodness, brace yourselves, I'm going to try and explain how I think...

In my previous post I talked about how my performance background affects how I write my characters, and how my theatre education helps me flesh them out via character analysis.

A person read my blog! Which shouldn't surprise me as much as it does, but often when I blog I feel like I'm shouting into a void so knowing that someone I don't know is listening (reading) gives me bubble-tummy feels.

This person went on twitter to ask me a perfectly reasonable question:
" there a way to teach people with no acting background [how] to make good use of character profiles?"

My immediate response is "YES!" - because I'm an optimist, and in my universe there is a way to do anything.
But then came the hard part...

As I said in my previous post, I plan and plot. Vague versions of the characters usually come first. Once I have a plot from beginning to end I begin my in-depth analysis for each character. I start with the MC then work my way backward until I get to people who are nameless and have yet to exist. Don't break your brain over it. The writing process is a fickle and fluid thing.

So for this MS my main character's name is Eden.
*I'm very careful with choosing character names. Very careful.*
My beginning Character Profile for her looked something like this:
 "Daddy's girl. Quiet, observant, but not awkward. Strong imagination, but not bookish or hyper-intelligent for her age. 16. Lives in small-town Texas. Biracial - Mother is black, Dad is white. Not future-thinking (doesn't know what she wants to be when she grows up). Only child. Spoiled, but not bratty. Strong-willed, but easy-going."

Okay...Here's where I fear I'm going to lose you. You're about to get a glimpse into my over-analytical, crazy-pants brain.

"Daddy's Girl" - this is an incredibly important component within the story. With this piece of information I had to flesh out who her father was. His likes and dislikes, then I had to take portions of his personality and graft them on to Eden. For instance, his taste in music...
Eden and her best friend are in a car crash at the end of chapter two. Before they are hit they are rocking out to Janis Joplin. Why not Lady Gaga? Or Taylor Swift? Or One Direction? Well, Eden didn't grow up listening to pop music very often, but she did grow up listening to 70's music, classic rock, and 80's hair bands. So when Eden's best friend let's her pick what music they cruise to it's Janis Joplin.
Later, Eden changes out of a very nice outfit meant for a party, and into "knock-around" clothes. She puts on one of her dad's old Motley Cru t-shirts.
These things tell you what kind of girl she is without telling you. She's low maintenance; she has friends yet isn't a social outcast, but she's obviously not one of the super-popular, cheerleader types. There are many other things that this ONE item on a list of character traits tells you about her...that's just what I get from "Daddy's girl".

These things build on themselves. Eden's a daddy's girl well then we find out a piece of who her dad is. How she was raised affects her relationships with other people. Shy-but-fun people often attract boisterous extroverts as friends. So then we have Madison, the best friend...
Your character analyses begin weave together then snowball...and you have yet to introduce the actual plot!

There's the rub.
Don't confuse a character analysis with anything concerning plot.
Character analysis does not change the story in any way except for changing how it's told. Do you understand?
At the end of all things it doesn't matter what song Eden and her best friend were listening to when a car crashed into them. It doesn't matter what t-shirt she was wearing.
But at the same time it does- at least for me.
Those details add "umph". They add a little bit of "aww, me too" or "I know someone like that"; a little piece of the familiar that we take with us into an extraordinary world (I write portal fantasy).
If you're going to do an in-depth character analysis and mean to use it then make sure it informs your world/story.

Good examples:
Victor Vale in Vicious - he blacks out words in books as an act of rebellion against his parents. He does it to assert his power, and reject/mar their influence. There is no plot significance, but it speaks volumes about the character himself.
Luna Lovegood from Harry Potter (5-7) - wearer of radish earrings, and possessor of encyclopedic knowledge of obscure facts about weird (most likely non-existent) magical creatures. Though we were confined to Hogwarts she gave us glimpses into non-mainstream wizard society, and the world outside of wizard school.
Bilbo, Frodo, Sam, Merry, Pippin in The Hobbit & The Lord of the Rings - love a quiet life, eat several meals per day, and are a notoriously non-adventurous/non-confrontational species. They people they were makes us care about the people they become. They prove themselves to be brave, daring, and selfless as they defy their natural inclinations to save their world. If Hobbits were lithe and beautiful warriors (like Elves), or hardy, desperate, rough-and-tumble brutes (like Dwarves) their journey would be less compelling than the one we know. There would be less heart within the story. It doesn't really matter that they regularly eat Second Breakfast. Second Breakfast didn't help them ascend Mount Doom. What mattered was that they stepped outside of themselves, that was a little piece of themselves that they sacrificed to do what they had to do.
That's the power of a character analysis. It allows you to find those little, inconsequential things that add color and depth to the bigger picture be it either the world you've built or the person.

Character analysis is merely an exercise. The things you glean from it will probably be things lost through round after round of revision, but the little gems you keep make your characters more valuable to the reader.

Some writers, I daresay many writers, may not use them, but I do because if I didn't I would get lost in plot. My characters would suffer from lack of dimension. I don't know if Victoria Schwab, J.K. Rowling, or J.R.R. Tolkien wrote out character profiles. Probably not - they're brilliant, but this is what I do to help my writing.

How you discover these things, and how you implement them are unique to you and the way you think. I can only tell you to find them, and add them in where you can. As a reader I relish those details. They are what make a character unique and memorable.

If you feel that a character analysis is something you'd want to try I'd suggest taking a character out of your favorite book/film/TV show (any character from anything) and breaking their characteristics down as much as you can. See how detailed your favorite characters are. I think you'll find that the most dynamic, intriguing characters are the ones with the most facets. They're the ones you can't sum up in three to five words.
Then create someone who can't be broken down into three to five words. Make someone who is complicated, contradictory but consistent, and make sure they're always moving forward (even if it's at 2mph). The character you begin with shouldn't be the character you end with.

This post is long-winded enough. I fear that I have muddled things more by trying to explain. More successful people out there are full of writerly advice - I'm just trying to explain what works best for me, and why.
The How is the secret that makes you You and makes me Me. I lean on my performance background. You might interview your characters, or make them have conversations with each other, or you might simply go forth with an idea and let your subconscious tell you who they are.

How you implement your character's strengths, quirks, and weaknesses is in your writing voice. If you choose to analyze to find those things is up to you.

If nothing else, I wish you luck! I wish you great writing, and breakthrough moments.

Until we meet again...

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