Welcome to our second lesson from Building a Short Story from the Ground Up. We are offering two options for this class:
- You can simply read through the class and take it on your own. No strings attached. Challenge yourself with the homework assignments if you like or not. The entire class is on your own, assignments and all.
- You can do the lessons and homework and receive feedback for each lesson, along with a critique of your final short story for the price of $47, paid via Paypal. If you choose this option, you will need to send homework assignments to <email@example.com> along with your name (and if your Paypal contact name differs from your name, include this as well for verification).
Lesson 2: Creating Remarkable Characters
What makes a character remarkable?
First of all, what do we mean by remarkable characters? A character worthy of notice. An unusual or extraordinary character. A character who comes alive on the page and is as real as the neighbor next door. Countless stories have been saved by a remarkable character. If the hero is interesting, he can carry the weight of the story on his back, and the reader scarcely notices a less than thrilling plot. In essence, the hero is the story.
But how do we go about creating such a character? Let’s explore some of the ways we show who a character is or how we make a character known to the reader.
- Direct explanation. The writer reveals his views of the character, explains how the other characters see the character in question, or tells how the character sees himself. How do you see your character? How do the other characters in the story see him or her? How does that character view himself?
- Specific details. The writer chooses specific details to show individuality. What sets your character apart from others? What makes him different?
- A character’s thoughts. The writer reveals a character’s thoughts during the course of the story. What are your character’s thoughts about what is happening around him?
- A character’s speech. The writer gives insight into who his character is by what the character says. Do the words your character speaks reveal who he is? If dialogue tags were removed, is it apparent who is speaking?
- A character’s actions and mannerisms. The writer shows us the kind of person his character is by that character’s actions, habits, and mannerisms. What are your character’s habits, good or bad? Routines?
- A character’s surroundings or environment. The writer chooses a setting to reveal what his character is like. What does the character surround himself with? What is his reaction to an unfamiliar environment?
- A character’s reaction to other people. The writer places people in the path of his character to show us his character’s reaction. Who in your list of characters would best bring out the traits you want to reveal in your main character? Who brings tension to the scene when he or she crosses your main character’s path?
A little thing called Reader Identification
We’ve looked at ways to reveal character, so now the question becomes, what do we reveal to make our characters come alive? Writing a character sketch can be helpful for the writer to see the various traits, habits, mannerisms, and details of his character at a glance, but working them all into the narrative makes for a laundry list instead of a story. The trick is to find the right details. Details which reveal much within the relatively small space of a short story.
Questions to ask
- How do you want the reader to react to this character, and what details would bring out that response?
- If you want the reader to identify with your character, have you made him real, given him acceptable flaws?
- Have you avoided stereotypes and clichés?
- What is your emotional reaction to your character?
Remember, when choosing details to reveal character, what is suggested is often more powerful than what is shown.
Choose a main character from the story idea you have decided to develop, and in a paragraph or two, write a character sketch. You can choose your protagonist, or maybe a character you don’t know as well yet. Again, we’re not worried about quality writing yet. The main point is to describe your character so you, the writer, get to know him or her better. Once you’ve written the sketch, go through it and choose five details you find most important and list these.