Monday, August 8, 2011

A Character's Interview

    Most author's talk about the voices in their head. For me, I have to interview them before they'll talk to me. And, as with most interviews, sometimes the person takes a while to relax and open up.

    Dave Farland is the first person I heard suggest this technique in his November 2010 Writer's Death Camp. He suggested that when you need a character for a certain roll, have a casting call in your head and see who shows up. Say you need a mentor for your protagonist. Sometimes you'll get the three hundred pound biker to show up, sometimes the wizened old man. Ask them why they want the part and why they think they're a fit. Which one would be interesting in your story? Sure the wizened old man seems natural, but that biker living next door knows a thing or two also. He's seen a lot of life. You can't discount him just because he scares you.

    Unless of course, the old man has a Gran Torino. But I digress...

    I needed to create a best friend for my protagonist that initially he hates, but later comes to understand and respect. I needed him tough because he had to help the hero overcome the crap storm headed his way.

Actor Chris Penn - Hunter Inspiration
    So let me introduce you to a character who showed up to the casting call for my protagonist's best friend. Hunter Bullard is an Irish shipbuilder's son. Even at sixteen he's a rough and tough, muscle-bound brute. I'm not saying he's a moron, but he's comfortable with pounding things into submission. His merciless upbringing in the streets of Belfast, Ireland, isn't helped by the fact that his father beats him or that his brother literally tried to eat him. Hunter plays it tough, but I could tell that when it comes right down to it, he's a nice guy and a loyal friend.

    So I gave Hunter the part and soon discovered that he also has a serious weakness.

    His mouth has no filter.

    He'll just say whatever he's thinking no matter how insulting, crude, or demeaning it is. And usually, he's actually trying to be insulting. When his words initially splattered out of his mouth and onto my page, I sat staring at my monitor. Would Hunter really say that? Did I want someone like that in my book? The answer to both questions was, 'yes.'

    I'm not sure how my subconscious slipped this little character trait in. Normally this type of person drives me up a wall, but with Hunter, I'm almost dying to hear what he's going to say next. Yeah, he's rude and crude, but he thinks he's being funny. Hunter has survived a lot of really terrible things and its his sense of humor that got him through. It may be dark. It may be rude. But it makes it possible for him to get up every morning and that is exactly what he needs to teach my protagonist.

    So when you're thinking and reading about all those great characters, think about the annoying ones too. Sometimes its that annoying factor that makes them so memorable.

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