building character

Creating Convincing Characters

Characters (like people) primarily define themselves by what they do, not by what they say. Action defines character.

Convincing characters have a belief system that drives their actions. Their belief system shapes how they perceive their world, how they perceive themselves and others.  In order for your characters to act with conviction, and to act convincingly they must act according to their belief systems.

Your characters will have varying degrees of self awareness about their beliefs – some will be self aware (but never completely so), and others will be in various stages of denial.  Also, no two characters (just as no two people) will share the same view of the facts.

In most cases  your character’s belief systems will change during the course of your story as your character develops and grows in response to outside forces.  Or, if you have a character who is incapable of self awareness, their belief systems will likely remain the same, as the people and circumstances around them change profoundly, precisely because your character is unable to change their belief system even in the face of compelling evidence that it is not viable.

Your characters’ belief systems can be conveyed through dialogue, gestures, quirks, idiosyncrasies, habits, and actions.

Writing Prompt:

Think of two characters that you would like to work on, and put them in a situation where they must manage (and mismanage) news that could change their relationship.  Keep it simple to start – a brief interaction that involves just the two of them, reacting to the new development.

To keep it manageable, you might put your characters in a small, contained space – perhaps in a car or a truck, an elevator, a waiting room at the doctor’s office or perhaps a dressing room where you can focus on their movements and dialogue without worrying about other distractions. Think of incorporating an item that holds their focus for part of the time. Now have them react to ‘big news’.

It can help to limit your writing time to 10 minutes, and make the commitment to write without stopping to edit or review what you have written. This will help you to keep the process of generating material separate from the process of editing your material. Both are creative, but they can be limiting when done simultaneously.

When you have completed your Character Building exercise feel free to post it in the space provided below.

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