Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Unique and Universal - Part 1

Today's post comes from two separate questions which I felt would work together to make an interesting topic. They are as follows: "Do you often find yourself giving traits or problems of your own to your characters?" and "How do you come up with such diverse characters?"

I have written on this topic before and I rather suspect I will write on this topic again many times over throughout my career. It's one I feel is tremendously important for writers to grasp and understand, but it can be tremendously difficult.

So I'll start with the first question. Do I find myself giving traits or problems of your own to your characters? My answer is: Absolutely!

And how do I come up with such diverse characters? To that my answer is: By giving traits or problems of my own to each of them.

This is not to say that I recreate my own situation in my stories. Nor is it to say that I try to write my own character or personality into my stories. But I do try to put myself into my stories. Ultimately, it's all a matter of honesty.

As I have been writing this post, I have realized there are several specific methods by which I go about this process. So I've decided to break this topic up into several parts to cover each aspect most thoroughly.

The first method I use I will call the One Key Struggle method. Using this method of characterization, I take aspects of myself--a struggle, doubt, or fear . . . honestly, the more sinful parts of my life. I'll take these little pieces of myself and begin to ask myself the all-important question: "What if?"

What if a young man who is as afraid of ever being wrong as I am was placed in a situation where his mistakes damaged the lives of everyone he cared most about? How would he, in his determination to self-justify all actions and decisions, cope?

What if I could no longer hide the truth of my vicious side--the side that secretly wants to see certain people in my life suffer? What if, despite my best efforts, I could no longer maintain my persona of perfection and serenity, because the truth was beginning to manifest itself in a completely terrifying form? What would I do? Where would I go? How would I try to protect both myself and those around me?

Like Lionheart, I do struggle with the idea of ever being wrong. And I particularly hate being publicly called out as wrong. I dread it. Absolutely dread it and would do just about anything to avoid people knowing when I've made a mistake. (One of the many reasons the writer's life is a tough one for me . . . Talk about public airing of any and all mistakes, real or perceived!)

Like Daylily, I have a secretly vicious side which no one is supposed to know about. It's private. It's my own inner wolf. If it started to manifest, if it started to gain the upper hand in my spirit . . . wow, I don't know what I would do!

Those are just two instances of characters who have traits of mine which have been extrapolated into something far more dramatic. I have never been in Lionheart's and Daylily's positions. But I have felt the same emotions, I have struggled with similar sin, and I have a good imagination . . . I can see where such emotion and sin, given the right impetus and situation, would lead.

Lionheart and Daylily are examples of personalities that aren't very much like me but who share with me a core, universal struggle. This is one way of "putting myself" into my characters. It's also a way in which I can universally reach out and connect to my readers.

Most of you, if you are honest, share one or the other of those above-mentioned struggles. Perhaps you don't want to admit it. But the truth is there. The universal is there. The manner in which your sin and struggle manifests will be very different from those around you--because you are unique. So are Daylily and Lionheart. But the struggle is the same, because the struggle is universal.

When it comes to crafting universal characters that spring off the page and become relateable to readers, there is nothing more universal than sin. And there is nothing more profoundly desirable than grace. The greater the sin in a character's life, the more profound the grace . . . and the more dramatic the contrast!

And great writing is all about dramatic contrast.


Sarah Bailey said...

You've made some excellent points! I'm writing a story and I've had a hard time relating to my MC, but you've given me an idea of how to make him spring off the page, as you've said.

Meredith said...

Oh, what an inspiring and relatable post. I deeply appreciate your honesty, and your characters are definitely real. I think they are the most vivid ones I have ever encountered in a fantasy series.

It's indeed very humbling to examine your own life and to then put your worse characteristics into a story. Over this year, I've learned to do more of it, and it's oddly cathartic even though it's painful. It kind of reminds me of method acting.

And, I hate for people to see my weaknesses. It's a fear that often haunts me. I also am guilty of dormant anger that I try to conceal. In a recent story I wrote, the "villain" underwent many changes until he actually was no longer a nonempathetic villain but a desperate man struggling with feelings of guilt and anger. That had never happened to me while writing before, and it was a real eye-opener.

Thank you so very much for your candor. These posts are such an encouragement.

Hannah said...

Lovely and inspiring, as always! This gives me an idea....

Jenelle Leanne said...

Love this. I'm using this method in my Beauty and the Beast story... hoping to finish it up soon!

I've really been enjoying these question/answer posts!

Anonymous said...

Yet another awesomely insperering blog post!

Unknown said...

Thank you, Anne Elisabeth! I already have a new idea forming for a story that would involve some of my own weaknesses. This, like so many others, has been very helpful to me!

Joy said...

Oh, this is wonderful! Thank you, Anne Elisabeth! I neeeded to read this today :).

Unknown said...

Thank you Anne for your honesty! It's so refreshing! I am also glad to know parts of you go into different characters. I had a time where I was going through doubt and one character whose parts I love writing was discussing the God character with a Believer. Through their conversing I realized I was putting two parts of myself in writing. It both excited and frightned me. But then I realized I'd been doing it in smaller parts with others.I can't wait to see what you do next!