In June I attended a Damon Suade writing seminar. He has a book out called Verbalize and the seminar was amazing. I really enjoyed it, and it made me think of different ways to create characters. He suggests that character creation come from verbs because verbs are actions and characters are actions on the page. A character should be doing something, not just sitting there. Not only doing something, but everything about that character relates to his/her verb (or synonym of that verb). The character’s action is derived from his or her void (fear, need, baggage, wound from the past) and that void is what motivates all action.
I have trouble with that intellectually because I can’t let go of the real-life aspect of psychological wounds (which people heal from) – but these are characters. Action Figures. Not a real person, so all of her actions can come from one defining horrible past issue.
Mr. Suade says:
Your charcters should do meaningful things in pursuit of their own happiness.
The Verbalize book has handy exercises. I admit that I have yet to successfully complete one of these exercises because I get confused. My fault, not the book’s or the author’s. However, I’m going to try one here.
Using your favorite thesaurus, zero in on the one essential, intentional action the character will embody everytime he/she appears. Do mindful digging so that you arrive at not just the easy result, but at the best one.
1. Identify the character’s central void and how it impedes his/her happiness.
2. Choose active verbs that might spring from that void as a credible solution for this character’s ongoing predicament (use thesaurus).
3. Boil those options down to 5 to 10 possibilities and try them on to see which ones the character can embody for the entire length of the story. Next to each verb, describe how using that action would subtly shift the character’s portrayal in the story.
4. Using that list of possible actions, get specific. Narrow the list of possible actions to one option that best expresses the character’s void. Is there any way to amplify its expression as the story advances? How does this action reveal the absence that occupies all of his/her thoughts and influences all his/her behavior?
1. Voids. Um. What is my character unhappy about? What is he/she missing? Fuck. I have no idea.
2. Active verbs that might spring from the —ah ha!
1. My character fears not knowing how to do something because he was shamed in the past for being ignorant.
2. Active verbs related to not wanting to be ignorant. So here’s my problem: Ignorant is an adjective. What is the verb that goes with that? Well, To Be Ignorant, but that’s not an active verb, seeing as To Be is already happening. The opposite of my character’s void (being ignorant/lacking knowledge) could be to be not ignorant: to learn or to know. Let’s try To Know.
3. If he or she knows, he/she can distinquish, fathom, grasp, apprehend, appreciate, experience, recognize, and discern (and so forth).
“Next to each verb, describe how using that action would subtly shift the character’s portrayal in the story.” Yeah, that’s easy. Not.
Maybe definitions would be helpful?
know; distinquish;grasp;recognize; and apprehend
I still don’t get the “subtly shift the character’s portrayal in the story” part but I guess once I start writing the story it might apply.
4. Narrow the list of possible actions to get one option that best expresses the character’s void? How about that best expresses the characters actions to escape that void? Sticking with the verb To Know, how does this action reveal the absence (lacking knowlege/being ignorant in this case) that occupies all of his/her thoughts and influences all of his/her behavior? Well, he or she could be constantly smug about knowing things. Never caught without an answer. Always has an explanation, even if it’s bullshit? Or, based on the list I chose, he or she can grasp at explanations, recognize when someone else is bluffing, gather information… Or have the obvious character traits/archetype of the Professor/Librarian, the person who always has a book and an answer – although the archetype describes the character’s activities and not his/her actual actions. It might be good for later.
In conculsion, I have no idea what the story is or the setting or any of that, but I do know that I have a character who needs to know in order to not feel shamed about being ignorant.