Friday, May 15, 2015

Forging Characters

Posted by: Steve Vera
There are two different kinds of people in the world: Those who believe characters are the most essential part of a story and...those who do not.

Of course, the best masterpieces interweave plot, setting and characters into a super-glob of literary stupendousness (is that a word?) but I've discovered that most readers and writers alike have a primary love. 

It's a tough call for me because I love me a good tale, but at the end of the afternoon, what good is a tale if we don't give a muskrat's furry butt about who's experiencing it? 

I was checking out Mike Martinez's guest blog over at Chuck Wendig's TERRIBLE MINDS blog today (Mike's third installment of his DAEDALUS trilogy just got released) and the subject of creating characters came up. In fact, it kinda inspired me to write about it myself because I have something to say about it. I was interested to discover that Mike actually uses an Excel sheet to make a character. That's crazy to me since I tend to run in terror from Excel--all those equations and stuff--but after a little retrospection, it makes sense. You can see exactly what you want, how you want, when you want. Still, being the communicative type fellow I am, I use a different tact; I give myself a lil' interview. Just two questions is all I need to get the groundwork going but they make all the difference in the universe. May I share? 

Question #1 (and the most important): 

What emotion do I want this character to evoke? And to what avail?  

This is a biggie because in essence, this character is going to be your reader's ambassador to your world. Do you want your audience to be inspired by your hero or heroine? Gratified through justice or scandalous sex? Riveted by intrigue? Your characters are the vehicle to this destination. The stakes are high, though. If your hero gets off on the wrong exit, or hits a big pothole of stupidity, your reader will mercilessly hit the home key and look for something more interesting--maybe a story about the sex habits of rabid honey badgers or something. You don't want that to happen.

Your characters have a mission: Evoke a big bucket of sizzling, sparking radioactive emotion. Once you do that you hook people, and if you can hook one person you can hook a hundred thousand. Of course, how one goes about evoking said emotion is a topic for another day, but knowing that objective, having that target in mind and knowing its significance is paramount for success. 

Question #2 

What makes you so special? 

Even before the internet and the deluge of distractions it provides, there were already way too many books out there vying for readers' attention for characters to be average and banal. You add the multiverse of apps, video games and five thousand-channel television and an unremarkable character sputters like a spark in a pail. They're gonna have to rock hard, be it willpower, strength, pluck, wit, magic (ding) or what-have-you because readers' attention spans are shrinking by the day. And that's a fact.

Once you know what you actually want, breathing life into your creations becomes inevitable. One of the perks of being an author is that you reserve the right to change your mind and evolve as many times as you wish. It's your story, these are your people.

Yours to forge.

There are other questions of course I ask in the creation of my characters but I don't wish to test that theory of shortening attention spans just yet. Guess you'll just have to tune in next time--mwa ha ha. The important thing to remember is that "people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." (Maya Angelou)

That goes for characters too.

Whether you use an Excel sheet, an interview or a dancing panda, you have a purpose, you have a plan.

And things are always better with a plan.

Light'em up.

The Trilogy

Steve's just a guy who wishes he could fire lightning out of his fingertips. Afflicted with wanderlust at the age of seventeen, he's lived in eight states, briefly served in the U.S. Air Force as a Pararescue Trainee, and has a profound aversion to mint chocolate chip ice cream. Steve currently straddles two worlds--one foot in his hometown of Elmwood, CT, the other in Sunnyside, Queens, NY. What bio would be complete without a cat? Steve has one. A great, fat, good-for-nothing but entirely lovable furball who has his own gravitational force.


  1. Interesting questions, especially the second one. My favourite characters out of the ones I've written do tend to be the 'special' ones, like Medusa who was ugly but had psychic powers or Angel, who was genetically-enhanced to be supersmart... Must do more of this!

    1. Thank you, Nicole! And I dig the concept of your Medusa character; what kind of psychic powers we talking here? Telekinesis? Telepathy? Cat-petting from afar? :) Thanks for chiming in.


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