Week 9

Crafting Characters

Show Transcript

Nick [00:00:06]:
So how do we actually go about building these characters? Well, I mentioned earlier that I don’t like to get really detailed at this point of the process during the outlining phase, Only because I know that I’m gonna fill that in as the book is written, and I like having that kind of discovery process, saved for that part. I I enjoy that. That’s creative for me, But I need something to go off of. So I usually will start with, my old, friend, Dwight Swain. He’s long dead, but He’s a he’s a he was a writing teacher, and he taught Jack Bickham, if you’ve heard of Scene Instructure. Both these guys have written a lot on character, and I love I love what Dwight Swain does, and I’ve just lifted that. And so this is the way I approach writing a brand new character. I start with a noun of vocation and an adjective of manner? So there’s 2 slides here.

Nick [00:00:55]:
We’re gonna go back and forth between them, but we’ll start with nouns. I give each character a thing. Vocation is the word Dwight Swain used, but it can be just sort of who they are as a person. Right? It doesn’t have to be their job necessarily. It doesn’t have to be their vocation. Keep it short. Don’t go too in-depth too early. The reason again is I like to let the character kinda speak to that.

Nick [00:01:15]:
My very first, series? I wrote was the enigma strain. The 1st book in the series was the enigma yeah. It was a book called the enigma strain. Harvey Bennett was our main character, and he was a park ranger at Yellowstone, and that’s all I had. I didn’t really know much about him other than that he was at Yellowstone. And so When I got to the adjectives of manner, I said, okay. I have a not a vocation. He’s a park ranger.

Nick [00:01:38]:
Let’s make him reclusive. I didn’t know why, but I just thought to be kinda fun. What ended up happening was as I wrote that book, Harvey Bennett revealed to me that he was reclusive because he was basically afraid of commitment, afraid of people. He was afraid of relationship, and he had a good reason to be. He had he lost his father when he was a kid, and it was kind of his fault, he feels like. So there’s all these reasons where he just has pulled back from society, and what better place to go than a national park where he could literally get lost in the wilderness. So that’s where that all started. Now I’m the vocation, and that’s all I needed.

Nick [00:02:12]:
Let it be short. Let it be sweet. Let the character speak to you as you start writing. Secondly, be morally agnostic. This doesn’t mean anything religious. It just means don’t worry about trying to shove the theme into that vocation or that thing that they’re doing too much? Don’t make it good or bad. Just make it a thing. Maybe they’re a serial killer.

Nick [00:02:34]:
Maybe you as the reader wanna pretend like you want is a writer. Sorry. Know that that’s a bad thing. Serial killing is bad. Let the character prove that out, though. It’s kind of a delicate line to to toe, whatever the mixing my metaphors here, but Let the character show us, the reader, who they are. So the job itself isn’t a bad a good or bad or any you know, it was just just a thing. It’s just a vocation the character can be good and bad or or good or bad? Hope that makes sense.

Nick [00:03:05]:
Make it recognizable. 3rd, give them something, that’s a little more easy to understand. This goes in hand in hand with keeping it short. Now we all know or at least we think we know what a park ranger is. That’s enough. That’s fine. We want to play off of our reader’s expectations. And in order to do that, we give them something recognizable.

Nick [00:03:23]:
So if we say they’re a knight, well, we know what that is. Okay. We know what a night looks like. We know what when they operated. We know, what they wore, what they, literally wearing armor. Like, so that’s the impression we get in our mind. You can play with that as a writer, of course, as you start writing the character and building that arc, but when you say what they are, it needs to be recognizable enough to just have something to latch onto. This is probably better explained by way of example.

Nick [00:03:49]:
If if I’m writing a science fiction book set in deep space and, we have aliens in it, I don’t wanna introduce my main character as a smorgasbord because that that doesn’t mean that doesn’t mean anything. I mean, sure, it’s a word that we have in English, but it’s not. It doesn’t I don’t know what that is. I can’t say, you know, well, he was a pretty good smorgasbord, but, you know, there are other better smorgasbords out there. We have no idea what that is. If we don’t very quickly explain what that is in the next paragraph or 2, our readers will be lost. Okay? So this is why I like to give the the reader something recognizable to latch onto as the vocation? We can subvert that later. We can say, okay.

Nick [00:04:24]:
Well, he was a really, really terrible knight, and he never wore his armor. That’s fine. But don’t just say he was a knight and then never put armor on him and never make him doing knight things? Right? Hope this makes sense. Okay. Finally, we wanna be consistent. We need to kinda keep the same job for the most part every book if we’re writing in series, unless that changing jobs is part of the job part of the vocation? But Harvey Bennett is no longer a park ranger, but that’s still kind of who he is in readers’ minds. That’s still where he came from? That’s his background. That was his last career before he kinda jumped ship and went crazy and and started the civilian special operations and blah blah blah blah.

Nick [00:05:01]:
He’s a park ranger. Right? Same thing if, you know, if they’re a hacker, they’re a computer programmer, they’re a smorgasbord, whatever that is. Like, we wanna keep that the same throughout books. We try to keep it consistent. So for all those reasons, you might wanna keep things short, keep them recognizable. Just think about something you might want them to be doing when we first meet them? And then, what we can do to kind of clarify some of their personality a little bit is the 2nd thing Dwight Swain said, which is to give them an adjective of manner. So if the noun of vocation is give them a thing, this is like giving each character a way. So how do they do the thing? Like I said, Harvey Bennett is a recluse.

Nick [00:05:41]:
He’s reclusive. He doesn’t like people. He has a reason for that, but we don’t need to get into the reason yet. We just need to know how he does it, how he does that thing? Think in terms of style. This should help you, the writer, create the character, but it should also speak to that characters’ personality and how they interact with other personalities that they may come across in the book? Like the b characters, the sidekick, the love interest, the sage, whoever it is along their journey they’re gonna meet, and, of course, the villain and their, you know, the antagonist buddies? So this is, the style in which they interact with with most people? Just like before, we wanna keep this morally ambiguous, like, so you can imply goodness and value. But, Really, again, the character’s actions, the what you actually have them doing in the plot is going to prove one way or another who they are really I like to use tools as well. So the 3rd tip here is to use things like Enneagram. Like I said, I’m an 8.

Nick [00:06:40]:
DISC is another one, like, ID. Right? And so whatever the thing is, by the way, I’m an ENTP, if you’re a Myers Briggs fan. These are really cool because they not only tell you who that person is, who the character is, and and what they kind of seem like if they were real if they were real human, But how they interact with other people, especially people who have different numbers or different enneagram types, whatever. So use those tools. All of that stuff can only help you. And then 4 is all and I’ve kind of alluded to this already, but you have to think of this character when you give them an adjective of manner. Think of them in terms of relationships? How is this going to play out? I knew that by making Harvey Bennett a recluse, it was going to be difficult for him to open up to the love interest I was going to introduce to him later, Juliet Richardson? But that was the whole point. I wanted there to be some tension there because, again, tension and conflict builds books.

Nick [00:07:32]:
And so I wanted there to be a good amount of, like, inherent tension because of who he was. He didn’t have to say or do anything. He just was reclusive. So think in terms of relationships. Your characters do not exist in a vacuum, and think of adjectives that might imply relational traits like reclusiveness or outgoing or extroverted? Okay. We’ll come back, and we’ll keep going, with the next part in a moment.

I am excited to share with you some insights into the art of building compelling characters. I understand the significance of creating characters that resonate with readers, characters that stay with them long after they have finished the book.

In this lesson, I will delve into the process of developing characters with depth and complexity, drawing from the wisdom of renowned writing teacher Dwight Swain and my own experiences.

So, let’s embark on this journey of character creation together.

Starting with Nouns of Vocation and Adjectives of Manner

When it comes to character creation, I prefer to start with a simple framework.

As Dwight Swain advocated, I begin by assigning each character a noun of vocation and an adjective of manner. The noun of vocation encapsulates who the character is at their core, beyond just their job.

It provides a starting point, allowing the character to reveal themselves to me as the story unfolds.

As an example, when I wrote “The Enigma Strain,” my character Harvey Bennett began as a park ranger at Yellowstone. This simple noun of vocation laid the foundation for his journey.

Moving on to adjectives of manner, these describe how the character embodies their vocation. It’s about their style, their way of being.

For Harvey Bennett, I labeled him as reclusive. This adjective shaped his interactions with others and added layers to his personality. By intertwining nouns of vocation and adjectives of manner, we lay the groundwork for characters that are multi-dimensional and engaging.

Being Morally Agnostic

One essential aspect I adhere to when creating characters is to maintain a sense of moral ambiguity.

I allow the characters’ actions and choices to reveal their morality rather than imprinting predefined moral codes onto their vocation or manner.

This approach breathes authenticity into the characters, allowing them to evolve organically within the context of the story. For instance, a character’s vocation may not inherently be good or bad; it’s the character’s journey that shapes the perception of their choices.

\Making Characters Recognizable

To craft characters that resonate with readers, it’s crucial to make their vocation recognizable. Utilizing familiar vocations enables readers to envision the character more clearly from the outset. Even in speculative genres like science fiction, providing recognizable vocation aids in grounding the character in a relatable context. Using recognizable vocations as a springboard, we can then subvert expectations and guide the character’s growth in unexpected directions, enriching the reading experience.

Section 5: Emphasizing Consistency

Consistency in a character’s vocation across a series or multiple books is vital. Having a consistent vocation provides a point of reference for readers, creating a sense of familiarity and stability amidst the character’s evolving arc. Even if the character undergoes changes, their initial vocation acts as an anchor, preserving a connection with the readers and anchoring the character in the narrative world.

Section 6: Exploring Adjectives of Manner in Relationships

An often overlooked aspect of character building is considering how adjectives of manner influence relationships. The way characters interact with others, whether it’s the sidekick, love interest, or antagonist, is shaped by their manner. By infusing characters with manner-based relational traits, such as reclusiveness, extroversion, or outgoing nature, we inject depth into their interactions and create opportunities for compelling conflict and growth. In my writing, I envisioned how Harvey Bennett’s reclusive nature would impact his relationship with Juliet Richardson, crafting tension and emotional depth.

Section 7: Utilizing Personality Tools for Character Development

Incorporating personality assessment tools such as Enneagram, DISC, or Myers-Briggs can be invaluable in shaping characters. These frameworks not only offer insights into the character’s individual traits but also provide guidance on their interactions with others. Understanding the nuances of these personality types deepens the authenticity of character dynamics, contributing to the richness of the narrative tapestry.

Section 8: Conclusion

In conclusion, the process of character creation is a dynamic, ever-evolving journey. By harnessing the power of nouns of vocation and adjectives of manner, maintaining moral ambiguity, establishing character recognition, emphasizing consistency, delving into relational aspects, and leveraging personality tools, we can craft characters that resonate deeply with readers. Remember, character creation is a collaborative process; let the characters guide you as much as you guide them. As you embark on your own character-building quests, I hope these insights serve as valuable companions, enriching your writing endeavors. Here’s to creating memorable characters that captivate and inspire!

In closing, the art of character creation is an incredibly rewarding aspect of storytelling. By carefully considering the vocation and manner of your characters, embracing moral ambiguity, and nurturing their relational traits, you can breathe life into them. Remember, characters are more than just players in the plot; they are the heart and soul of your story. So, go forth and craft characters that will linger in the hearts and minds of readers, weaving unforgettable tales through their essence. Happy writing!

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