The Absolute Best Advice on Creating Characters

Who is this guy? Why should I be taking this kind of advice from a nobody? Those are the questions that may very well have gone through your mind since you read this post’s title.

So who am I and why should you be taking advice from me? Well, check out my social media and the rest of this blog and you’ll see who I am — an unpublished author pulling up hard on his wheels on the runway of life.

And why should you listen to me? You don’t have to listen. I’m just another blog on the world wide web.

So from one unpublished author to another, I really want to give you some of the absolute best advice I have ever received on creating characters. Specifically, your main character.

If you’ve ever read John Truby’s ‘The Anatomy of Story’, then you probably know what I’m going to say with this post with its title in mind.

This is going to be as short a post as possible, so here are the six best things you could consider in architecting your characters.

  1. Beliefs and Values
    This one, I feel, is the one I see everywhere. The reason we watch movies, read books, or engage in any form of storytelling is because the beliefs and values of the story are the ones we want to see discussed. It’s more than just another question on the character questionnaire chart. It’s key to the purpose of the whole story in the first place.
  2. Moral Weakness
    This, I believe, is referred to by Truby as “the Character’s Lie”. Their weakness is that they believe something to be true (revenge solves everything, being mean will get you anywhere, etc…) and that lie manifests as the…
  3. Moral Flaw
    This one is where it gets interesting. I see many stories where the protagonist, antagonist and/or side characters have problems in the external to solve, but nothing too emotional or beneath the surface. But deep inside every character, there should be a sword of some emotional kind stabbing everyone the character interacts with.
  4. Psychological Flaw
    Pride, arrogance, moral blindness, inability to make a love interest show love back. These are just some idea cards on the table to show that stories are more about “interesting” characters in the middle of a super, uber, epic, action-packed, edge-of-your-seat external plot. Stories are about seeing characters solve their inner problems, because after all, those are the only things worth fixing.
  5. Moral Need
    This is the aspect of the character we desperately wish to see solved by the end of the story. Even if the Death Star was blown up without the help of Han Solo, it wouldn’t nearly be as satisfactory if Han hadn’t changed inside. This is closely related to the Psychological Flaw and it might be different in a unique way, but I don’t want to run the risk of just copying Truby’s book onto here. I just know these terms are in his book.
  6. External Goal
    Stop the bad guy. Save/win the girl. Destroy the Death Star. Lift a curse. Carry out revenge. These are the goals that make up the interesting plot that make up the trailer moments that make us want to go see a film or read a book. This absolutely useless unless it stems from the character and his/her flaws, needs, beliefs, and values. This is the manifestation of a human being’s feeling of purpose.

That may have been extensive, that may have been not enough, but Truby’s book is the gold mine for all your story needs and so I cannot possibly tell you everything there is to know about what John Truby says about character.

But I invite you to buy the book and bathe in its creative truth and what I, personally, have found most helpful in the creation of the stories I plan to start self-publishing before the year 2017 is over.

I’m Trying to Ooze Here

I did something annoying last night. I went to bed late. Abnormally late. 1 AM. But in the process, I discovered something.

Although I don’t agree with the reasons for the rating of the movie ‘Mortdecai’ with Johnny Depp, the whole concept of the film enthralls me. Heists, globe-trotting, art dealing, detective work, and Johnny Depp humor plastered throughout.

It’s a nice call back to the oldies that made one of these at least once a year (that’s without going to look it up).

Aside from all that, I discovered something. I already said that.

It was not a discovery so much as it was a revelation. It was already uncovered. I just had to see it. Although staying up late most likely will intrude on my free time for the next day, the best ideas that I have tend to come out when my left brain has clocked out for the day, leaving my right brain in the office by himself.

I couldn’t believe it. Within a matter of fewer than thirty minutes, I had a character specific flaws and goals to push an idea into a story.

So, now I implore you to do this heinous thing of staying up way past your bed time with some hot chocolate, tea, and/or coffee, and to get into the mood that you know allows your right brain to kick the left brain out and say, “I’m trying to ooze here”.

Throw the ideas out onto the page. Get an internal goal, and external goal, a psychological flaw, and a moral flaw for your main character at least. Get your set pieces in. Throw ideas for things you know you want to have in your piece of writing.

I guess what I’m trying to say is this: brainstorm in the middle of the night, preferably much later than you’re used to being up. Or at least, give it a try anyway.

You often hear people tell you to get up from a good night’s rest and start writing then. Well, why not try doing it the opposite? Fall asleep throwing ideas out onto that page, screen, whatever.

And remember to make it j/LARGE.