Today we dive deep into character, characters that let us walk in the shoes of someone else. But how can we create characters that feel genuine while also functioning to move the story? Glynn Washington, Joe Richman, Ira Glass, Jay Allison and more are here to help us figure out how to make characters that connect with an audience.
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This week’s challenge:
Your mission this week is to create a profile of one or more primary characters in your story.
I need you to make some hard choices, and write up just a couple of sentences about the character, detailing only whatever backstory is absolutely necessary to make your story work, and NO MORE.
If you’re doing non-fiction, write about your character as if he or she were fictional. Make up the things about your character that you hope to find in real life, that would make your story awesome. But then, please, be prepared to chuck all this and be surprised by reality when you actually sit down with him.
Below I’ve posted a handout that I use in my classes called “(More than) 20 Questions for Characters,” that comes from that very same chapter in Drawing Words & Writing Pictures, my textbook, as the original Trish illustrations that sparked the whole saga. In fact, it’s part 2 of the same activity as the spark cards I used to create Trish in the first place.
It’s a kind of worksheet, to help you think through some of the things you might need to know about a character, and to run the character through her paces a bit, with questions designed to evoke stories. Treat it as a starting point, answering whatever questions are useful, adding some new ones that I hadn’t thought of.
But this work, and this worksheet, is just for you: I don’t want to see the full run-down. Just the few details from the backstory needed to make the story work.
Next time on Out on the Wire
In our next episode, we’re talking structure. How can you construct a story that propels the characters forward? With a new interview from Jonathan Mitchell of the great radio drama podcast, The Truth.