Creating Dynamic Characters

            You pick up a book that looks interesting and begin reading. The main character, Sally, is a complex individual who can be friendly, but also rude, motivated but lazy, fun to be with but challenging. At the beginning you are intrigued by Sally because you realize that her life is about to change.

            Her best friend is manipulating her financially and emotionally. Sally is being forced into deciding between going on a vacation with the friend, who wants Sally to pay for the whole thing, or buying herself a badly needed new car.  Meanwhile Sally’s son has lost his job and is moving back home. Sally loves him, but can’t live with him for his sloppiness drives her crazy.

            As the story progresses you begin to understand why Sally behaves the way she does as each impediment arises. You root for her when you think she makes the right decision and lament the poor ones that get Sally in trouble. Ove the course of the story, you see Sally grow and change.

            That is called the character arc and it’s what makes characters dynamic: readers want to see them experience challenges that force them to evolve over the course of the story.

            Your task is to write a story in which a character is met with a series of difficulties that either are overcome or not. If overcome, then the character must change in some small way. If not, there still must be change, but is it positive or negative change?

            At the end the character must be different in some way. It should be large enough that the change affects behavior, status and beliefs.

            Have fun  with this one.

Stereotypical Characters with a Twist

            Picture the butler who answers the door. What is he wearing? What does he say and do? We probably all have the same image: he’s an older gentleman with a British accent dressed in a tux with tails. He instructs the visitor to go into the drawing room, and then heads off to summon his master.

            In mysteries the butler is often the top suspect in a murder. Despite the reserved image he portrays, underneath that calm lays an angry, vengeful man.

These are stereotypical characters because they are flat people that fill out the cast. They generally appear in quick bursts then drop into the background. Throughout the telling, these characters exhibit little or no growth and have limited impact on the story arc.

            Now picture the lowly farm boy toiling in the heat of the afternoon dredging soiled hay from the horses’ stalls. What is he wearing? What does he say and do?

            What if the butler gets fired and has to become the lowly farm boy? What if the farm boy is actually the son of a prince in a faraway land? Because the farm boy and the butler experience life-changing events, their impact on the story has gone from being minimal to critical.

            Your task is to write a scene in which what first appears to be a stereotypical, flat character and offer a twist in the plot that belies what the reader thinks to be true. You can use the characters mentioned or introduce a different one. For example, what if the wise old woman lacks skills to be a mentor or the orphan who is thought to be the descendant of royalty really is just a street kid?

            Have fun with this one.

Paying the Bills

Perhaps you are fortunate enough to be able to pay your bills on time and so have excellent credit. When you need a new car, no problems. You are automatically approved for a loan. You decide to buy a condo and the lender smiles as they hand you papers to sign.

Maybe you’re struggling to pay the rent and put food on the table. You pay off the gas company so you have heat and light but postpone payment to the credit card company. You know this puts you in risk of losing the card, but you have no choice.

Your task is to write a story in which paying the bills plays an important role. You can tell the story of an individual who has no financial worries until something happens that puts him at risk. Or you can share the concerns of someone who is just getting by.

The important point is to ensure that your readers feel the joy or the pain, that they walk in the shoes of your protagonist. Dialogue would be important as well as narrative descriptions. Seek a balance between the two.

Have fun with this one.

Pausing for a Reality Check

Impulsivity is a plus in certain fields of employment. Imagine being faced with a decision that has to be made now, not ten minutes from now or after consulting with a team of experts. Quick thinking and fast reactions save lives in an emergency, solve problems in a production line, and move people safely out of a burning building. Take-charge people can be a benefit to an organization.

Now imagine a scene in which acting impulsively causes serious problems. The man rushes into a burning building to save his cat, gets trapped and has to be rescued by firefighters who could potentially be injured or killed in the process. Or say she’s driving a car, the light turns green and she jumps out into the intersection because it’s her turn. A car running through the light hits her, killing her passenger and breaking several bones in her body.

In both cases pausing before acting would save lives.

This is called taking a Reality Check. Before acting, you stop for a few seconds and analyze the options or the motivations for your thinking. It can be a powerful tool when employed correctly.

Your task is to write a scene in which your character needs to utilize the Reality Check method. Create a complex setting in which important decisions have to be made. Perhaps your character acts rashly, leading to a domino effect of negative consequences.  Maybe your character is the victim of someone who made a poor decision. Readers will need to feel the danger, sense the thinking process and care what the result is.

Have fun with this one.

Great Decisions

Recall a time when you had to choose between a variety of things, ranging from great to small. Some gave immediate short-term rewards while the most desired required patience and determination to accomplish.

Perhaps you wanted a forbidden soda and a candy bar of your own. What went through your mind as you stood before the range of possibilities? What did you choose and why? As you ate and drank, what sensations did you experience? And when you were finished, were you satisfied? If so, why?

Now think of something you wanted as an adult. A new car? Hybrid or electric? Automatic or manual? Sedan or SUV? What research did you do before making a decision? What factors influenced the vehicle that you chose? Once you drove it off the lot, what emotions arose? Were you satisfied with your decision?

Your characters make great decisions as well. The things they want depend upon personality, socioeconomic status and need.

Your task is to write a scene in which the readers will see the entire story from beginning to end. Because this could easily become narrative, the challenge is to bring the process alive through dialogue and action. Tension must also come to play in order to prevent the story from being flat.

Have fun with this one.