Thursday, March 4, 2010

Helping Creativity by Creating Characters

If you've ever worked on a creative endeavour, you've likely reached a point where you feel like you can't come up with ideas. Of course, this could apply to drawing, composing, writing, or a myriad of other creative pursuits. But I want to focus on writing, dealing with the dreaded "writer's block". I'm going to offer one method to help in the creation of a story.

If you're struggling to create a plot or some story arc, then the first thing to do is to simplify your objective. Stories are told through their characters, so focus on creating a character and let the story unfold from there.

Give your character an emotion
But now we're faced with the problem of creating a character. In order to do this, let's give our character an emotion. Emotions help people connect with the characters we create, as they can empathise with their feelings. So for this exercise, grab a piece of paper and a pen and write down some emotions. Or grab a dictionary/thesaurus and pick one from a random page.

I'm doing this as I'm writing this post, so I came up with: mirth, jealousy, depression, eagerness, frustration.

For the purposes of this exercise, I'm going to pick "frustration". Now there might be plenty of reasons why someone might be frustrated and we can create a character around that. But say for argument's sake that this particular emotion still isn't helping you come up with a character.

Give the character a setting
So let's try adding another layer to the character. Let's give them a setting. Sure, you might already have a setting in mind, but that doesn't matter. Just think of a setting, be it a time period or a genre. So write down a few possible settings.

I came up with: Middle Ages, Egyptian times, a crime thriller, outer space, Roman Empire.

So let's combine that emotion with a character (or two!) from one of those settings. Try a character from these times, pick some stereotype or type of person and then work out why they might be feeling this emotion. If you can't come up with something, just forget it and move on. Don't dwell on it, just move onto the next setting/character and write something down.

Now combine the two...
Middle Ages - A peasant: frustrated by his inability to grow decent crops.
A noble: frustrated by the tardiness of his vassals to pay their dues/taxes.
Egyptian times - A worker building the pyramids: frustrated by... lack of food/water.
Crime Thriller - Private Detective: frustrated by the police stymieing their efforts to investigate a murder.
Heroine: frustrated by the feeling that she is constantly in danger from a killer on the loose.
Outer Space - ...
Roman Empire - A worker in the gladiator pits: frustrated by his inability to escape from a life of servitude in a bloody environment.

These aren't fully formed ideas by any stretch of the imagination, but they're a hook to get the flow of creativity happening. Note that I couldn't really come up with anything for my egyptian worker, paused for a second and wrote something down, then moved on. For outer space I didn't have a character spring to mind, so I just abandoned it.

Develop the character to make the story
Now we need to pick one or more characters to explore: I'm going to take the heroine. She's frustrated, but also fears for her life. At the same time, she has the conviction and determination to do something about it. The character is already three dimensional and we have a small story around them. Yet, we can easily take that core emotional context of the character and transpose into another setting and create a new story. If she were in World War 2, she might be a spy who is frustrated at the slow progress of her mission, but fearful to push faster for fear of being discovered. Yet she is desperate to make a difference in the war so must overcome that fear and take the plunge to break into the office of an official.

I'm sure you get the idea, and I imagine you can develop your own ideas more thoroughly from this point. My main point is that characters are vital to telling a good story, and if you can make an interesting and meaningful character, you'll likely be creating a story around them before you even realise it.

1 comment:

  1. This is certainly an interesting and original idea to create a character. Now I know what to do when I'm free at work tomorrow :)

    Another potential inspiration, at least for me, are songs - especially power/death metal with fantasy-themed lyrics. Most of them ARE stereotypical of course but even a single line can inspire a setting and from there, a quest line and possibly even a character (coincidentally, that's what happened at work today when I was listening to Valley of the Damned, except for the character bit).