What do your characters want? What do they really want? What pushes them through their narratives? What are the motives for the crazy shenanigans that they get themselves into? What are the motivations behind their motivations?
Our characters may not know the answers to these questions, but we should. In fact, if we want them to be believable and relatable we have to know them and understand them better than they know and understand themselves. Let’s pick apart some fictional personas together so that we can try and understand what makes them tick—and in the process, try to learn what makes our own characters tick.
Saturday workshops are free and open to the public. Often, low-cost, yet impressive pastries will be provided.
What: What Do Your Characters Want? with David Martinez
When: Saturday, March 2nd from 10AM to 12PM
Where: GCC Main Campus, Room LA-141
Why: Did you see the line about low-cost pastries?
What does it mean to kill your darlings? Well, first, what is a darling? A darling is something that interferes with the relationship between you and your audience. It’s a part of your writing (could be a line in a poem, a paragraph in a story, or an entire chapter in a novel) that doesn’t do the work it needs to do but, despite this, you love it and refuse to edit it out.
All writers are guilty of harboring darlings. It’s the line that someone told you had such a nice ring to it. It’s the character trait that is pulled from someone you know in your own life. It’s the pop culture reference that only you and your friends “get.” As fun as it is for us writers to read and re-read these darlings, as much as they make us smile, we have to remember the writing is not for us, not unless it’s a diary. And if the writing is for someone else, an audience, we must be attentive to its purpose, what effect it is designed to have on the reader. Does the passage advance the plot, does it build the character, does it enhance the reader’s sense of setting? No matter how long the work is, every line in it has to “do” something. If you’re not sure what the line is “doing” but you just like the way it sounds, it might be a darling. And as fun as they are for us to read, they fall flat for our audience and thus interfere with whatever else we are trying to communicate to them. Good writers become “good” by being ruthless in their determination of what really “works” on the page and what doesn’t.
But isn’t writing supposed to be fun? Do we have to be ruthless all the time? Darlings persist when there is ambivalence on the author’s part about who a piece of writing is for. If the story is akin to a diary entry, if it will only ever be read by you, then you can have as many darlings as you want. But if it’s for anyone else, then you have a duty as a writer to consider your audience’s expectations (often based on genre) and their desire for entertainment (this cuts across all genres.) As authors we certainly don’t want to pander to audiences, but we can’t afford to ignore them either. Your writing is the machinery that delivers your dreams, your ideas. Darlings are the pretty little flowers that get stuck between the gears.
Click here to read more about weeding out your darlings. This author has suggestions for how you can preserve them, to some degree, if you can’t quite bear to kill them entirely.
Have you ever killed a darling? How did it feel?
This post was contributed by Jeff Sanger, one of GCC’s English and CRW faculty. In addition to periodically contributing thoughtful posts like this, he is also planning to facilitate our first Saturday Morning Workshop for Fall 2018. That workshop will take place this weekend, September 8th, from 10AM to Noon on GCC Main. Read more about it here: Who Are Your Characters?
Aaaaaaand, we’re back for the 2018-2019 academic year. If you’re a newly-subscribed follower of the blog, welcome! If you’ve been with us for a while, welcome back! If you have no idea why you’re on this page or receiving an email notification, consider our meeting destiny/fate/true love and be welcome too. For our first event of the year, Jeff Sanger is going to put on a free Saturday workshop. Description and details below. Hope to see you there!
Certainly, you have an idea who your story is about, but do you know what your protagonist’s favorite color is? If they were sentenced to death, what would they order for their last meal? Trivial considerations? Perhaps. But the better you, the author, know your characters, the more fully they come through on the page for your reader. And readers across all genres love vivid characters. But how do you learn more about your characters? Can your characters be further revealed to you as you write about them? Many writers believe they can.
Even if you know your characters well, the other challenge, of course, is delivering this information to your audience, making sure they understand who your characters really are. Page after page of exposition (telling) about your characters typically leads to a disinterested audience that puts the story down unfinished, that outcome every writer fears. How do you show your readers who your characters are?
Visit our characterization themed Saturday workshop to implement some proven techniques to learn more about your characters and bring them to life on the page.
Missed the workshop and want to see some of what Mark had to offer? Attended the workshop, but want to refresh your memory on some of Mark’s book selections and concepts? Head over to Workshop Materials and peruse the content covered in the workshop.
Have you ever read a book, watched a show, or sat through a movie and thought any of the following?
“Who does that? Real people don’t act like this!”
“I can’t keep track of these people. What’s his name is with what’s her face? Who’s that guy?”
“All of these characters could die in a fiery plane crash and I wouldn’t care.”
The fictional world may be fascinating, the conflicts may be intense, and the writing may be beautiful, but without fully realized characters to follow and root for, the story is ultimately doomed. Don’t fret, however. You can build unique and complex characters! Moreover, you can create characters with their own drive and will so that they surprise even you, the writer. Come join us or a free workshop to help breathe life into characters you will want to save from a plane crash.