Tag Archives: character

Character–What is it & How do you get it?

I have recently become snared by Criminal Minds. In spite of my love for mystery, I tend to avoid procedural crime dramas. It takes an excellent hook to grab me. I have been watching Bones since the beginning. In the first episode, the main character reassembles a shattered skull to find cause of death. She just worked on it all night like a puzzle. I was fascinated. And, I admit, I watch Rizzoli and Isles, but that is because one must love Jane and Maura.

But I have never seen an episode of  CSI (any of them),  or NCIS, and I have only seen Law & Order when my mom is watching. So I was late to the party for Criminal Minds–ten seasons late, to be precise. I find that often happens, as I don’t follow the crowd when it comes to movies, books or tv.

How did Criminal Minds ensnare me? The brilliantly portrayed criminals. The show is about a FBI unit that specializes in profiling criminals: murderers, psychotics, serial killers.  They use the profile to figure out who they are, what they are likely to do next, how they pick their victims.  Then, generally, they catch them. And why is that different from other procedural crime dramas?

To explain that, I must reference a few episodes. The first one that really caught my interest was a man whose doctor took him off his medications in order to help him remember his younger years. He had been found around age 7 or 8 and had no memory of his earlier life, and he had mental issues all his life. After going off the medication, he did indeed start having flashbacks. Which unfortunately led him to murder several people as he followed the breadcrumbs back to his father–who was a serial killer and used his son to help care for and then bury the boys he killed.

They did a marvelous job writing about this character. I was completely sympathetic to him, the horror he had gone through was so clearly the root of his criminal behavior. In the end, he was of course caught and remanded to a psychiatric institute. Where they would put him back on his medicine and he would have to live with what he had done. He had never wanted to hurt anyone, and had only killed when he felt attacked during a flashback. To him, the person touching him was his father. What a horrible thing to live with. In living color thanks to the rationality of the drugs they give him.

The paraplegic psycho who used his mentally challenged brother to kill for him was masterful–and so easy to hate as they explored his mind. The brother was tragic. Still child-like, he did what his brother says, no matter what. Together they had a body count of over one hundred. Sadly, they were both killed, the challenged brother by police and the mastermind by a relative of one of the girls murdered. Another aspect of the show: justice being done, but not always in the expected ways.

Obviously, not all these criminals are sympathic.  But they do a wonderful job with the villains we love to hate. The nicks and cracks of human nature is explored in-depth as they provide us with new criminals each week. The horrors that we can inflict on one another, the tragedies that shape people are all deeply thought out and provocatively presented. I have yet to see a two-dimensional character on the show. They are tortured, tormented characters enmeshed in their own psychosis.

And isn’t that what we all want to write? To present  a fully realized, poignant character that evokes emotion from the reader?

Plot is important, of course. I, of all people, love plot; I rarely read a book that isn’t going anywhere. And when I do, I find myself wondering “is this going anywhere??” But it is always the characters that make it for me. Plot fails without people we care about. Much as we hate to admit it, within genres, there tend to be basic plots followed*. Thus my not watching crime dramas. It is the people that populate these worlds that bring us in and make us believe the world is real. Those are the characters to live for.

 

*I don’t want to infer that plot is not integral to the writing. A cleverly written story, with intricate twists and turns, is a joy to read as one tries to anticipate where the author is heading. But it is also a truth that superior characters can bring life to a downtrodden plot.

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That Blinking Cursor

It doesn’t matter what one writes: fiction, non-fiction, technical writing; we all dread that blinking cursor. It sits there, expectant, endlessly. A full-page of blankness falls underneath it, waiting to be filled. You place your fingers on the keypad–and freeze. Nothing comes out, no impulses tell your fingers what to type. And still that cursor sits there, blinking at you.

Why do we get writer’s block?

 “The possible reasons for it are myriad: fear and anxiety, a life change, the end of a project, the beginning of a project…almost anything, it seems, can cause that particular mix of fear and frustration upon confronting the blank page”.*

 Whatever the reason for our own personal blockage, it can be painful. We are filled with doubt about our abilities when we can’t make those little black characters appear on the page. So what do we do?

1. Just start, it can always be changed later. This is my preferred method. Usually by  my second paragraph it starts to flow. Once you are in the story, going back and changing the beginning to fit what you want is easy. You already know where the story went, so now you just need a bit of editing to make that piece of crap first  paragraph (or more) work for you.

2. If you are writing fiction, writing prompts  are a great way to start. Say you have an idea but haven’t fleshed it out. This character has been beating at the inside of your head trying to get out; but you don’t know where they live, or what kind of story they have. Find a picture or writing prompt  and write a 100-500 piece of flash fiction with that character. By the time you are done you will know if the prompt worked for that character; or if it didn’t you will know why and where to go with your story. And you have a great little prequel with your character to whatever story you do write.

3. Write about your anxiety. If you don’t have a set story to write, start writing about your worries about not writing and examine what might be stopping you. Even if you have a set subject you need to write about, doing this can get the words flowing. You might learn something new about yourself–and have an interesting piece to be used later.

4. Do something mindless. Errands, exercise, or chores are a great way to take your mind off what you are trying to write. Generally as soon as you stop trying to write, ideas flood in faster than you can keep up. The hard part is keeping them in your brain long enough to get them out your fingers.

5. Talk to an imaginary friend: Instead of writing  for your intended audience, create an imaginary friend. Your friend is a real fan. He (or she)  loves everything you write. He supports everything you do. Give your imaginary friend a name. Create a little drawing or find a picture of a lookalike. Pin this picture on the wall above your desk. Instead of writing a blog post, or story, or whatever, start a conversation with your friend. Or write him a letter (maybe he lives somewhere fabulous). Discuss his dreams and challenges. Help him with whatever he is struggling with. Be a good friend. **

6. Change your medium. Get away from that b$#@king cursor and pull out a notepad. A paper notepad. And a pen. Sometimes the hypnotizing flow of ink across the paper can inspire you. When you transcribe it into computer, you have a great chance to expand parts and edit the piece.

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