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Bob Nailor

Knowing All Your Characters

Many writing conferences, seminars, whatever, will usually have a session about 'writing your character' or 'developing your character.' Exactly who or what is your character?

I was asked: Which is more important? Conflict or Character?

As a writer, everything is a character! Plot is a character. Conflict is a character. Emotion is a character. Weather is a character. John, the hero, is a character. Mary, the heroine, is a character. Even Slith, the villain, is a character.

Let me step back and make it a little easier to grasp what I am saying. Characters are what make your story. John, Mary and Slith—they're what I call cast, your players.

You're a writer. You create a world, be it a small room or an entire universe—it is where the story takes place. You dot this world with characters, a cast, much like a play.

To this mix you add more characters: Love, Conflict, Anger, Weather, Environment and several others. Even the world you create (the location of the story) is a character. The room protects your cast, or it holds them prisoners. It is no longer just four walls but a living entity to be dealt with.

When we create our characters, we give them descriptions. John is handsome. No, John is given details - a cleft chin, dark and wavy hair, muscled and tanned chest, a five-o'clock shadow at two, bedroom eyes and a gleaming smile. Mary isn't just pretty. Mary is an attractive brunette with soft curls, a natural beauty that needs no makeup and the prettiest blue eyes. We don't say "It snowed outside." and move along. A good writer makes the reader shiver with details of the swirling winds and ravaging, biting snow, the deep drifts and blinding white. This holds true for Conflict. Mary doesn't worry about John. Instead she has gut-wrenching fret about his life, her life, their life. Mary is immersed in John's condition.

We are taught that our characters must grow, develop and change during the story. How can Conflict do this?

Let's create a scenario:
Mary likes John but doesn't love him. John is enamored with Mary. John discovers he has cancer. We now have Conflict using Love and Health.

John is debilitated and Mary must care for him. His cancer is growing and wracking John's body. She watches a manly man succumb to this invasion. John no longer touts his prowess but humbles himself to Mary's administrations. The conflict of health has escalated.

Mary comes to admire the soft features of John's hidden side and begins to fall in love. John is upset to show his less-manly side. The cancer gets stronger. Conflict of love growing, as is health issue.

John is now completely weak and Mary must feed him. Cancer now has Death at the doorstep. Mary frets what life, her life, their life, will be? A new medication is administered. Love is now in the air for Mary. Cancer's conflict is now deadly.

John rebounds and once more is a man's man. Mary is unsure. Cancer strikes back with a fury. Got to add a twist.

The room closes in on Mary as she watches John's health once more fail. John realizes that Mary loves his softer side and he could lose her. The medication re-kicks John's system and the cancer is put into remission. John and Mary are in love. Love is now reciprocal. Health is under control. Conflicts are addressed.

Yes, very simplistic but it shows how Conflict can be built as a character to enhance the story.

Every aspect of your story is a character. Don't short-change yourself or your reader. You don't write John lifted his rifle and shot the deer. No. Instead, you define that character which at this moment is the rifle. John lifted the bolt-action 700 Remington mag with its Leopold 3x9x50 scope and took aim. The nine-point buck, his target, began to bound away. John's finger squeezed the cold trigger. He fired.

Do you see the difference?

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Elyse Salpeter
What a great post. I have to remember that I need to constantly give my characters depth and description and not just adjectives to describe them. Great tip!
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Onisha Ellis
You make it sound sooo easy. While going over a first draft I find myself thinking, how would Bob describe this action.
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