What kind of characters will live your world?

The Great Gatsby was full of fascinating characters who lived in F. Scott Fitzgerald's world
The Great Gatsby was full of fascinating characters who lived in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s world

SO THIS IS WHAT IT’S LIKE to be in control.

You feel like God.

But you wouldn’t dare make mankind in your own image.

How boring would that be?

You’re not even for sure you like what you’ve created.

Don’t worry. He had second thoughts as well.

Instead, you look at the screen on your computer and begin building world where you would like to reside or maybe be afraid to reside.

Full of sunshine.

Full of shadows.

It’s entirely up to you.

Maybe it’s even an old world, a leftover from your previous novel, the door to a sequel that has been bouncing around in your head.

All you have to do is open it.

The old world beckons.

You’ve been there before.

Perhaps it just needs a few finishing touches.

Or maybe it’s a new world you’ve never seen before.

From the past.

Or the future.

It doesn’t matter.

Creating new worlds is little more than playing with matter that matters. Towns. Buildings. Streets. Landscapes. Mountains. Deserts. Swamps. Highways. States. Or even countries.

You can make them any size. And any shape.

The only architect you need is your imagination.

Now come the most important ingredients of all.

Now come the characters.

You can’t simply make them up, give each of them a name, slap them on a page, and hope they do something.  Stick figures have no reason to do anything. Stick figures kill off a story quicker than a shotgun blast down main street at midnight.

Stick figures can’t think.

They have no back story.

They have no motivation.

They don’t hate.

They don’t fall in love.

They are the walking dead, and there’s not a Zombie around.

That’s not particularly my opinion or an epiphany that came to me in a flash of light in the middle of the night.

As I’ve said many times, I’m a thief. I steal from those much smarter than I am, which means I have carte blanche steal from most anybody and usually everybody.

I think, however, that author Leslie Gordon Barnard explained it best when he said, Don’t expect the puppets of your mind to become the people in your story. If they are not realities in your own mind, there is no mysterious alchemy in ink and paper that will turn wooden figures into flesh and blood.

Characters aren’t just a bunch of names scattered or scribbled on a page.

They breathe.

They think.

They plot.

They scheme.

They’re in love.

They’re afraid.

Their irritating.

They annoy the hell out of you.

They’re rich.

They’re broke.

They may steal from you.

They may kill you.

And you know it’s true because you know each of them like family, particularly the black sheep.

As author Leigh Bracket put it: Plot is people. Human emotions and desires founded on the realities of life, working at cross purposes, getting hotter and fiercer as they strike against each other, and finally there is an explosion. That is plot.

And so it is.

I have this one basic rule about my characters. If I can’t take him or her out for a steak and bourbon simply because I enjoy the wit, wisdom, curiosities, and conversation they bring to the table, then I don’t have a real character.

It’s like an audition for a play or movie. If we can’t have an enjoyable dinner together, the character, no matter how much I thought I might like him, or her, simply doesn’t get a call back.

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  • My current characters came out of two questions: 1) Why can’t I get what I want? and 2) Who does get what I want?

    I have had this fascination since Linda Eastman was the girl who got to marry Paul McCartney – when millions of girls world-wide would have killed for it. And by all accounts it was a good choice.

    Not enough curiosity in that particular case to dig into the details, but it got me thinking about the same question that drives things as diverse as Jane Eyre and the reality shows Bachelor and Bachelorette. Who gets what everyone wants – and why?

    • Caleb Pirtle

      Alicia, you have explained what gives characters life – their greed, their motivations, always wanting what they can’t have or shouldn’t have. And someone always suffers. That’s life.

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