Characters: who are they and why should we even care?

There’s some rational part of me that knows that it’s a tad obsessive to have posters of the actors or characters you dearly love hanging on the wall. I can partially rationalize it with the fact that there is a larger part of me that is a geek, but there will always be that little annoying man in the back of my brain saying ‘what will your friends think? Don’t you think you’re making these characters into gods or something’? That voice was loud enough for me to contemplate whether or not I should take my posters off the wall before my friends came over for a movie night.

    In the end, I didn’t. One, I’m way too lazy for such things. Two, it makes no sense for me to do so, otherwise than to hide a part of myself away. Why would I do that?

    That type of rationalizing is the same as considering taking down your family pictures when your friends are coming over. Unless there’s a rational reason for doing so, like if your family were a pack of rabid cannibals who enjoyed taking pictures of them eating human flesh, and you just happen to be inviting your next meal over… then it really doesn’t make sense to take them down. Every picture is a memory of sentimental value, something that keeps you going every day when you pick up those photos and just remember… remember when your family was beside you and you could smile for a bit. Just for a bit, while the madness around you continues.

    It could be a stretch, connecting family photos to posters of television characters, and in some ways it is, as I’m trying to connect real people to cultural icons. I mean, isn’t culture kind of bad to us sometimes? Scientists will argue that watching television or reading magazines and absorbing the culture affects people, and I won’t deny the facts. There are plenty of women out there who peer at those magazine covers, with the women with glossy, thin thighs, the round butts, the hourglass figures and the barrels on top and find themselves exponentially uglier in every way compared to them. I can’t say that I don’t wish for the kind of authentic, deep relationships between friends that seem to only appear in television. In the end, culture just seems to have the knack of hanging pretty things in front of our noses, and then denying us that right to have the shiny things.

That’s the key: culture is all around us, it affects us, and not all of the messages that the world pastes are ones we should be learning, but heck, it’s inevitable that world is culturally driven. Our population is stuck in a net of computer cords and television screens.

    This thought takes me back to a conversation I would have with my father whenever we went on long trips. It’s hard to have a philosophical conversation in my family. We are too smart for our own good, I’m afraid, and in all too different of areas. My brothers are technical, my father is medical, and my mother is smart in moral ways I could never even imagine knowing. The only manner in which we can actually engage are usually during car rides, long car rides, when the music lays dully on the ears, and there are too many hours left to drive to do anything else. My father and I always had a few halting starts, but when the conversation started to roll, we could reach high speeds.

    Often times, my father would steer the conversation towards our current culture today, and how it has its many issues. I could not help but agree, but then I would always silently think to the back of my mind that this was the culture I was STUCK in. I knew this was MY culture.

    There’s really no point in denying it, now is there? I am an instrumental part of my culture. I grew up in this culture, I’ve been shaped by it, I’ve experienced it every day, I’m part of what makes it tick, but I don’t think I’m ruined yet. Is it so wrong to try to love a culture so broken, so screwed up? Is it okay to love people who are making themselves comfortably miserable? I can critique it all I want, but it won’t change where this culture is headed, and the fact that I’m a part of it.

    Which brings me back to my posters. My rationally, anti-culture little man in my head tells me it’s shameful to have these men on the wall. But then there’s the part of me who respects these men for their fictional achievements. The part of me who loves how they can keep secrets and be flawed yet have such hearts of gold that can make me wish to be that way. Flawed but beautiful. Just like our culture. I care for these people, fictional or not, and just as my family does, they can stretch a smile on my face and keep me going during a day.

    Why do we need characters? Because we all need friends. In fiction. In life. We need a friend who’s willing to walk with us through the story.

    You can call me geek-face or whatever, but characters, stories, plot, my culture, they’re not going away. Of course, in fiction, characters are not the entirety of the picture, but if you want to have a story peoplecan connect to, they better have someone they can connect to who’s on the inside. It’s like having an agent undercover. They can tell you what’s going on in the plot, while you worry for their safety, and can’t wait to hear from them again. I think that’s a beautiful thing, don’t you?

    Care for your characters. They’ll care for you too.

    See you next week.


Character Creation: Side Characters

My very awesome philosophy professor one day decided to give us an ethics problem, a logic problem with no real answer to choose. The situation was, that you have been kidnapped by an evil villain, and have been put at the junction of a train station where the speeding train can either go on the left track or the right track, and which track it ends up on is completely up to you. The evil villain has rigged the train so it will crash into the station and kill only whoever is at that station, so either way, you’ll end up killing someone. If you don’t decide one side or another, the evil villain has put everyone you know and love into a warehouse with his goons aiming machine guns at them if you don’t decide which track the train goes on. So the point is: someone’s going to die any way you try to stop this.

The question of ethics comes to WHO is inside the train stations.

In train station 1, we have:

  1. Dr. Cancer- He is a super famous scientist with a lab and is going to find the cure of cancer in a week if he survives this.
  2. Mr. Everything- he will end up writing one of the most important manuscripts on some truth in life in the next year, which will change the course of this study.
  3. And one famous actor or pop culture star like Miley Cyrus, Matt Bomer, or whoever you find actually has some dignity.

In train station 2 we have:

    25 petty criminals- to CLARIFY, these men did not kill anyone. Petty just means they’ve done the run-of-the-mill crimes, like robbing a convenience store or something.

So there’s your question, who do you choose to kill?

My class went off into a myriad of questions, and from what I gather, most of them, in the spur of the moment, would have sent that train hurtling down to train station 2, because there is no guarantee that these criminals will actually do any good anyway, so might as well get the guarantee.


Don’t classify us as murderers yet, because after that, we began asking questions: could the cancer scientist’s lab buddies make the cure of cancer without him? Do the petty criminals have families, or small children who are dependent on them? Do the criminals have any chance of turning their life around and doing good as well? The list went on.

The point is, if you were ever in a situation like that, if you ever wanted to make the best decision, what’s most important is the context.

That’s where my connection to side characters comes in. There are only two methods to making them, either winging it and giving them almost no personality at all, or at least knowing their context so they’re not just a number in your book. The first option is obviously acceptable, no one will shoot you if you do it, and if you were in the philosophical situation explained above, no one would blame you for just taking out the criminals. You didn’t really know anything about them, and there’s no guarantee of anything. It’s not your fault if you do the first.

If you really want to make a side character that counts? Create a context for them. Let them have a life too, breathe it into them. You don’t need to know every specific detail, but at least get his framework, feel out his insides. Sure, he won’t get much screen time, but if you want to add some spice to your story, it’s always great to find a small guy that anyone can love/hate, you know what I mean?

The side characters need some love too, and some time. I may not be the biggest detail person, but I can tell you, every piece of good work will be appreciated, maybe even by that tiny laugh that side character can squeeze out of someone. Human beings are fickle, wonderful people, including the times when their period in your life is too short for long-term impact, where they can blow you away.

See you next week!

Character Creation: How to make a convincing villain

    There’s nothing more interesting than a human obstacle. It’s not like trying to jump over a hurdle, or knock down a cardboard cutout of a man, you’re trying to outwit a creature as complex a creature as you are. Humans, by nature, are competitive little bastards whenever it comes to something they care about, even a little. Ever had one of those arguments that you get the hots over, but no matter how passionately you fight your point you just can’t seem to penetrate that thick skull of theirs?

That person on the other side of the facebook debate is the kind of villain you want to make in a novel.

  1. They know their argument
  2. They’re not going to take any bologna from you
  3. They infuriate you

You can win a game of Othello all you want, flip all the tiles until the board’s mostly white, but you can’t win a person, at least, you don’t want the antagonist to be someone you can win against. A comedy villain is a different story, he can be Dr. Doofenshmirtz all he wants. But if you want a compelling villain you want your fans to remember, you’ve got to make him convincing. You have to make him real and more menacing that a mwahaha villain no one actually finds in real life. Make him the most charming civilian you’ve ever met. Make him the best friend that had to go to rehab all those years when you didn’t know the reason. Make her the employee everyone talks about. When they’re close to your hero, the les they’ll want to win, the more likely that winning is some far shot. There’s your tension.

That’s right, your villain also has to be up close and personal. Either have it hanging right under your hero’s nose, or put them somewhere way too close for comfort. Maybe even make us love them before we figure out the truth.

In the end, the character is up to you, and you should plan to have your villain be someone you could admire, in some awkward twisted way. Whoever your character is, they should inspire you to take the extra mile and would want you take a step further than you might think. When they finally take root in your mind, you might have some splendid villainous thoughts, and suddenly, it all comes out of you. We are not all goody two shoes. Even those people at church who smile all the time aren’t necessarily happy all the time. As much as we would like to think that we’re all pure white and sunshine, you might have to realize you’ve got dirt trailing on the hem of your wedding dress.

    Villains should come from you because villains are supposed to be people, at least, I believe it should be so. Perhaps you romance novel people would disagree, but that’s precisely why I don’t read romance. Then, there are the romances with actual people in the way, and that’s where it gets better. Especially people-pleaser heroes who’ll turn squeamish the moment they try to hurt anyone.

    The point is, you’ve got to keep reality in the picture. You don’t have to be the psychological professor who knows every psychological disease ever, but it would be helpful to know a few. Narcissism is a helpful one. Antisocial disorder is not too far behind. You could even venture so far as to include Autism, at least, a twisted form of it. The point is, give them a reason for their madness, and not just because they like to be bad.

    Finally, remember to keep your details in order. If you’ve got a narcissistic person with anger issues, they’re going to kill a person a lot more violently than a piano-stringer with an obsession with finesse. If you’re going to go with a disorder, do some research on it first, meet some people who have had the disorder or even try to see if you can find an example in history. If you can’t find anything, I give you permission to search fiction. Sure, it’s not technically the truth, but it certainly is based off some truth.

    REMEMBER this: The villain should be compelling and seemingly unbeatable, the villain has to be in your face, villains are people, and they should have reasons for all the horrible things they do. Evil exists in the world, it just depends which dark corner you fish it out of to flesh out this horrible villain of yours. If you make a good villain, you can bet I’ll read your book if I can find it.

    See you next week!

Character Creation: How to make a compelling hero

There really is no simple equation for any type of characters. The hero, the villain, the little side characters that no one cares about… they’re all large components of a story with all of their little twists and turns. I wish I could say there was some easy way to make the perfect character that could fit into any genre and thrive in their own glory, but there isn’t. Characters are not a simple addition problem, hero+conflict=best story ever is not something that will always work.

    I’ve heard writers say that they hear their characters in their head, off writing hours, and at times I have a hard time believing it. I already stink at real life conversation, so what makes you think I want to be talking to some fiction person in my head all the time? I don’t even want to talk to myself half of the time, let alone a person I brought together from a compost pile in my head.

    Here’s some good news, you don’t have to learn to talk to yourself to make a good hero. My tip to you: Learn from television.

    Now, wow there buster, are you telling me that all I have to do is watch some television and I’ll get my characters? I just copy off of them or something? NO. We don’t need another 50 Shades of Gray. What I mean is, take your hero and put his backstory into episodes in your head. If you like dramatic childhoods, create an episode where he loses his mom or a mutant bug eating their hubby at the altar. This doesn’t necessarily have to be in your book or movie, but it gives references on how your character acts in certain situations, and it perfect material for flashbacks.. Make the episode dramatic and life changing or whatever, enjoy the episodes. The reason why people obsess over some TV show characters is because they know them and love them inside and out from what they did on their TV show. The key to all of this is: LEARN TO LOVE YOUR HERO.

    While creating these episodes, think to yourself about what characteristic of him is so likable? Heroes should never be perfect saints, first of all, but they certainly can’t be Satan’s spawn. Some characteristics that are a favorite among heroes is determination, loyalty, kindness, kick-ass-ness, etc. etc. etc. You can spice your character however you like, but the biggest thing is: why should we give a damn?

    I’ve been watching some USA shows, and frankly, some of them do amazing jobs at helping us care for the character. Let’s take Burn Notice into question. The hero, Michael Westen, is a super spy who is in the middle of a CIA mission, and suddenly, right when the CIA’s resources were needed the most, he’s got the burn notice. He’s fired, kicked back to Miami Florida with a myriad of bruises and doesn’t have a cent to his name. Now, with those characteristics alone, I really wouldn’t care much for this guy, and wouldn’t follow him on his adventures. At least not yet. However, then, when Michael Westen helps a person, one who he didn’t need to help, but helps anyway, with his two beautifully hilarious friends Sam and Fiona, things begin to change. We see that he struggled with a bad Dad, but because of that, he’s protective and distant from his family. Here’s a good man who was thrown out for no good reason, and he wants to find the truth. You’ll want him to find the truth too… well, somewhat.

    The point is, we need to give a damn about the character. Then, you get us to love him. Then, we’ll follow every chapter in your book or your tv show because we need to know whether or not the hero can protect what he needs to protect. Whether he gets the truth or what he wants or not. Take it a step up and help me love every single protagonist in the show, then the hero doesn’t have to carry all the weight. Give me a villain to love and I’ll give you waffles.

    Go on and make some good characters. If you do, it’s very likely that I will come find you and eat up all of your work.

    Good day, and see you next week.

How to create Best-Selling Characters

Consumers are fickle, simple people, including you, me, and the bipolar uncle who lives down the street who does laundry as a hobby. Each and every one of us knows what we want, and when it comes to being a consumer, it’s simple, each and every one of us consume what we like. Appeal to our interests enough and consumers will buy what you’re selling. The tricky part is when you’re selling to more than one of us.

    People are amazing, diverse and wonderful living beings. That’s why marketing is hard, and has its own department in universities and businesses and the like, because touching the heart of more than one specific individual can be tricky. It’s easy to get people to like you when you’re up close and personal. When you’re behind the name of a company, a website, a social media site or even a blog, things get complicated. It’s harder to convince anyone to invest in you if they don’t know you.

    Take someone like me for example. I need authenticity for any relationship I have. I like good things. I’m selfish. I’m flawed and I like stories and good characters. I start hating places like Twitter because almost every writer I follow starts marketing their book 24/7. Am I even going to start looking at that book if I don’t even know who you are? I don’t think so.

    That means, the more you’re obsessed about advertising, and not actually connecting with the people you’re trying to get to like you, you’re not going to get very far.

    Maybe that’s why this blog hasn’t burst in popularity. Guess I don’t have the marketing guts in me. Hate to admit it, but I’ve been selfish. I’ve half-assed posts before. I call myself a Literal Loudmouth yet sometimes my own darn rule system just loves to jump in and censor me. If I were in most people’s shoes, I wouldn’t follow me either. I’m very grateful to the people who have; seriously, you’re all angels. Thank you.

    I’m not going to give you any more on marketing mumbo jumbo because I think you’ve all figured out by now that I’m not an expert on selling things. I can’t win a heart other than meeting a person face to face and actually talking to them.

Funny thing is, that might be one of the reasons mascots are so productive: they do all the connecting for companies. If your kid plays with Tony the Tiger out in the backyard, you know he’s going to want to buy the cereal he’s on.

Same with movies, TV shows and books. Characters are the key to reeling anyone into what you’re making. If you’ve got the right recipe for a character, then you can successfully capture at least most of the population of the United States of Consumer America. Characters are necessary because they’re the things that tie the whole blockbuster package. They’ve been shaped by their setting and occupation, they’re driven by the plot, and they’re the ones who bring the baddies out of the dark corners of the movie universe. If I don’t like the person who’s doing all the cool things, I’m not going to care what happens to him. That means I’m never going to watch another movie where that character is involved.

The way to make Best-Selling characters? Bring out the self you would want to be.

Children go out into their backyards, tie red towels around their necks and run around with their arms in the air for more than just the heck of it. Superman, Iron Man, Captain America, Batman, all of those comics and movies make millions of dollars for a thousand reasons. One of those reasons is because we see a person we would want to be. I certainly wish I could be superman, to have enough powers to break the desk job and go help people from disasters. We wish we were people who could change the circumstance of disasters. We want to be something more than they guy who works eight to six every day, or a housewife doing chores all day, we want to be something more. We love seeing this man we wish we could be succeed and kick some major alien butt while he’s at it.

We need to want to be/like this guy. But there’s more.

There is a reason why children stop watching children’s movies, because the older you get, the more you realize someone like Dora the explorer is really quite slow and not believable.

You need to give your character connections to reality. He can’t be entirely fictional, although, there is some leeway on the amount of fiction you can have. What you also need to create a character people can love is if he makes choices that are believable.

When the character makes choices, there’s something there in the back of our minds that click and think I might’ve made that decision. Or not. The decisions they make have to make sense. You don’t need a tragic backstory to make that happen, you might just have to establish your character is selfish. Selfishly wonderful, might I add. You do have to have a trait that makes someone want to root for their wish to be.

One more thing that might help your character be even more wonderful is if his goal is something we wish for him to achieve.

If the guy’s goal is to go blow up a building for the heck of it, trust me, I won’t want anything to do with this guy, unless the explosion is flashy and good for the camera. Then, after the explosion is over, I’ll probably leave and forget about the movie, again.

Make your characters wonderful people. Something you wish you could be. Be creative, and be true to yourself. Human memories are great compost piles for great characters.

See you next week!