Character: Casting Shadows

In the previous GWW posts I learned about the what, how and why of fiction. Chapter 2 Character: Casting Shadows by Brandi Reissenweber is about what makes fiction particularly captivating to readers. As Reissenweber learned from a young long-term hospital patient, people read “because they get to meet lots of different people.”

When you write, you essentially give life to characters out of your own imagination and nothing else. These characters need to have something that drives them and moves them along on their path–Desire. Being motivated by a desire makes a character a character, but you’re reading to meet people. Characters need to be complex and multi-dimensional. So get your readers to identify with your characters by making their desires as complicated as the real-life people the reader deals with {Say what?!?}.

Familiar with the Millennium series by the late Swedish author Stieg Larsson {No? You need to be}? Lizbeth Salander is a dynamic character. This pint-sized mis-fit is ready and willing to resort to violence. Shooting someone in the foot is always an option in her brain. Killing her guardian for her own justice, again not that difficult of a decision to make. Would you and I come to the same conclusions, probably not. Then again readers see Salander interact with friends whom she cares deeply for. It seems almost contrary to what you expect from her. She is warm and appreciative of her friends on top of a violent ass-wooper {excusez mon Français!}.

Another example of character complexity can be found in Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita. Humbert Humbert is a controversial and deplorable child molester, but Nabokov also gives Humbert Humbert other traits as to avoid making him a type but rather that dynamic, complex character people will relate to. Humbert is more than a simply appalling character, he is charming, intelligent, shows guilt and weakness and, of course, what some feel is a genuine love and affection for the young Lolita.

 
 
 
Your Turn:
Think of a character. If that’s too vague, make this character some kind of performer–an actor, singer, magician–who has hit middle age and is finding that his or her career is now mostly faded glory. Or use a parent or child who is having difficulty with his or her own parent or child. Then think of a specific desire for this character. One driving desire. Make the desire something concrete–money, a career break, the touch of a certain person–instead of an abstract desire like love or personal growth. Once you find the character and desire jot them down. We’ll be coming back to this shortly. 
Aurora is a dress wearing, tea drinking, young woman of apparent wealth and class in London. She desires a bad-boy. 

Create a character with me and check back to see where Reissenweber wants us to take it. 

Feel free to share in the comments! 


This post is part of my creative writing experiment that will get me writing more often and more creatively. All excerpts and “Your Turn” prompts are from the Gotham Writers’ Workshop Writing Fiction: The Practical Guide From New York’s Acclaimed Creative Writing School. As I write my way through this book, I welcome all constructive criticism, suggestions, advice and comments. 

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