Creating Characters and Grading Research Papers

orson scott cardThis week has been hectic.

The 11th grade research paper was due and I have been in the middle of grading them.  Such is my life.

However, in the midst of this, I have been thinking about what makes excellent characterization as I construct my newest character driven novel series.

In Orson Scott Card’s book Character and Viewpoint, he states that when creating characters, writers must ask three questions: “Who?” “So What?” and “Huh?”

What Scott Card means by this is that we first must answer who the character is, why the reader should care about the character and then finally the writer must remove all doubt about whether or not the reader should follow this character throughout the writer’s narrative.

As you can imagine, this takes a lot of work on our part as the writer, but as the title of this blog signifies, writing is not for the lazy.  Sure, most of us base our characters on people we know or maybe even ourselves, but the most interesting characters are those that are a little off kilter, a little odd, or even downright strange.  I put together a few tips of my own that will address Scott Card’s questions concerning crafting characters, and I hope they help you as well:

  1. benedictReal World Avatar – I found a neat little feature on Scrivener used for character creation that allows me to insert a picture of my character in order to reference that particular character.  This has allowed me to peruse Google images for an actor or actress or even concept art (for aliens) that would be a visual representation of the character I am creating.  For my main character I envisioned Benedict Cumberbatch (if my book were a film) and so I inserted a picture of that actor on the character biography page.  This helps me answer the “who” because my main character (if my book were a movie) would be played by Benedict as my first choice.
  2. vaderSympathy for the Devil – It doesn’t matter if the character is a villain or a hero, the audience needs to have some reason for wanting to read about them.  This is accomplished by working something into the hero or villain’s back story that makes them likable to some extent.  The reader doesn’t have to like the villain’s deeds, but they must like the villain be intrigued by the reasons they are the antagonist.  We have to create some kind of detail about them that makes the reader want to read about them, and this is the same for the heroic characters as well.  It is the reason we were so intrigued by Darth Vader in 1977.  Who is that guy and why is he wearing that dark armor?  What happened to him?  I can remember all of the speculation about it as a youngster, and it fascinated and captivated me.
  3. mazeCurious Development – The character must have something happen internally to them in the plot that drives us to follow them to the end of the novel.  If we do not create these curious developments we will find our readers leaving half-way through the novel to find something else to do.  This requires us to create some kind of secret about the character that is only hinted at throughout the core of the plot and then revealed later.  This element needs to be a mind-blower, something that probably might be out of character for them, but not enough that it defies logic.  Life itself is not logical at times, and if we can translate that to text, we’ve done our job as novelists.

Well, now that I’ve shot out these few tips for the week, it’s off to grading the rest of the research papers.  I only have seven left.  Cheers!

Published by Roger Colby, Novelist, Editor

Roger Colby is a novelist and teacher who has taught English for nearly two decades. He is also an avid reader of science fiction who feels, like many other sci-fi readers, that he has read everything. He writes science fiction for the reader who is looking for the next best thing, something to excite them into reading again. This blog is his journey as a writer and his musings about writing. He also edits manuscripts for a fee and is an expert at helping you reach your full potential as a writer.

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