Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Secrets of Creating Characters in Written Fiction (Part 16)

Their Own Emotional Life

Humans are creature of emotion. They react to their own worldview. They feel things and do things for wholly irrational reasons, but not without sense. It is this very emotional broadcasts that says, “I am a person” and pulls in the reader. Without this emotional life, major characters feel flat.

Ask yourself, “What is a character’s emotional response to the situation?” I don’t care who you are or how long you've been writing, this is always a good question to ask. Taking that step back and asking that question delivers results.

As a writer, you can’t humanly track everything while you write in perfect detail, nor can you follow every implication of a situation, so taking some time to look at the emotions that you missed is a very good practice. When you do, you realize that you've left something out of the a character. More importantly, you've left a human element out of the character. Human elements are what readers respond to.

For example, a criminal is stealing jewels around the city. A police detective gets assigned to a case. What should the thief feel? Perhaps superiority as he thinks his crimes perfect, but as the detective closes in, he begins feeling threatened. How does he react to the pressure of the detective closing in on him? Is he hard boiled? Does he have bad dreams to deal with his justifiable fears? Does he lose his sharp thinking? Where does he fray around the edges? That’s where the story is.

What's more, people are not mono-emotional. They are not one emotion that shows at a time. Humans are a sack of spaghetti when it comes to emotion. They have little twists and turns piled on top of other twists and turns. Using the example above, the criminal may be scared, but he may also be angry at the same time, and desperate as well. That's three emotions that run into each other as he's making his decisions. That's some good internal conflict.

Some genres don't have much emotion. Traditional super-heroes have very flat emotional range. They are actioners rather than characters. They wear their costumes and act according to their designated roles. They fight the villains and all is good with the world. Even many of the more complex Marvel heroes still only have one emotion that gets explored as they go.

Other genres wallow in emotion, such as romance. If there's no emotion in a romance, you've got a total and complete failure.

Science fiction and fantasy often have flatter characters for a variety of reasons. Mostly, I think it's because these stories descend from those stories starring the level headed white male who rises to lead. Where there was emotion, the stories were about angry white males who rise to lead. There wasn't much room for character nuance there, nor did the audience necessarily want that nuance. With the rise of more female oriented fantasy and sci-fi, we now see the rise of characters with a deeper and more nuanced internal conflicts, presumably less interesting to the young male audience. I think that this is a great topic for research, so somebody out there should definitely write on this and show me that I'm wrong.