Crafting a Character Part 1: In the Now

As I mentioned in my post about Goal, Motivation, Conflict, character is the most rudimentary ingredient in fiction.

From the writing guide Revision & Self Editing by James Scott Bell, I’ll be hand selecting three fundamental considerations for every post in my Crafting a Character series. For the purpose of self-knowledge, you could also create a character sketch of yourself and dig into the following concepts to obtain a goldmine of introspection.

 

I am More Than Just an A/S/L!

The typical character sketch would include the age, sex, language, and other physical traits of a person. If you want to run deeper than a basic police profile, consider the following.

Point of Vulnerability: 

Knowing your character’s point of vulnerability can vastly shape your entire story. Figure out what their personal pitfalls are, what triggers their frustration the most. It will be one of the greatest deciding factors in  what they will react to and how.

From Back to the Future, Marty McFly’s point of vulnerability is his sense of courage. No matter what era Marty finds himself in throughout the epic trilogy, he often walks away from a challenge until Biff Tannen (or his ancestor) asks, “what’s the matter, [are] you chicken?”

Our spunky, time traveling hero turns around and responds with “nobody calls me chicken!” This point of vulnerability causes Marty to never backdown to almost every challenge presented by this long running lineage of bullies. It often gets him into more trouble as opposed to escaping it.

At the end of the epic trilogy, Marty learns to feel secure with his integrity, thus knowing when to back down from a needless challenge. Although this test of bravery had served him well for the first half of the series, this point of vulnerability and how he deals with it is revealed for what it is; an ego trip designed to make him feel brave, while costing him progression toward his more important goals.

What’s your point of vulnerability? What kinds of challenges do you receive relevant to it, and how do you react to them? 

Physical appearance and how they feel about it: 

cat-lion-mirrorPhysical appearance only describes how a person looks, but what’s more important than this basic fact is how they feel about it.

In Skinny by Donna Cooner, an obese high school senior named Ever is tormented by the whisperings of “Skinny,” a voice in her head who constantly berates her about her weight.

When Ever breaks the chair she’s sitting on at a school assembly, she decides that enough is enough. She goes under gastral bypass surgery to help control her food intake, as well as start an exercice regimen that helps her expand her self confidence by shrinking her waistline.

Even people of average or beyond average attractiveness can have issues with their physical appearance. (For the sake of argument, let’s just say there is an objective standard for beauty, even though it’s usually in the eye of the beholder.)

For instance; Perfect by Natasha Friend features a dynamic duo of 13 year old girls that have bulimia. Since the death of her father, the protagonist Isabelle developed the habit of binging on a ton of food and purging it right out.

Isabelle joins a bulimia outreach group where she is surprised to find Ashley Barnum there, the popular and pretty girl at school. She is shocked to discover that the girl she once revered as picture perfect also has body issues, even though both girls are actually skinny. In fact, if Ever encountered these girls, she’d be repulsed by their skinniness and eating disorder.

How do you feel about your physical appearance? Have you updated your wardrobe extensively, started working out, or are you simply secure with it? What role has it played in your life?

What Others Think

The old addage, “you shouldn’t care too much about what others think,” is coupled with the cliche of “it’s easier said than done.” To some degree, we all concern ourselves with how others perceive us, whether extensively or minimally.

The Evolution of Bruno Little More by Benjamin Hale follows the story of the world’s first English speaking chimpanzee. In Bruno’s memoir, he details his struggles between civilizing himself among humanity and keeping true to his primitive roots.

The more self aware he becomes, the more he begins to worry about how others perceive him. Since a ridiculous standard is forced upon him, being the first talking chimp and all, it becomes increasingly difficult to contain his baser urges while maintaing the eloquent and intelligent personality he has developed since acquiring language.

When our self perception clashes with what others think of us, it creates a divide between staying true to ourselves or conforming to the crowd–or in some masterfully crafted instances, finding a middle ground.

How much do you concern yourself with external opinions? Has it caused you to change your behaviour or have you developed any habits that help ward off the temptation to please others?

Stick around for…

Crafting a Character Part 2:  It’s All in the Past

Crafting a Character Part 3:  A Better Tomorrow

 

 

 

 

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