Today we bring you a guest post from one of our newer blogging friends, Shawn Griffith. Shawn runs a blog called Down Home Thoughts, and his site is packed with old-fashioned wit and wisdom. He’s on WriteOnSisters to talk about character, a topic near and dear to his heart. In fact he’s conducting a survey on character over at his blog. Make sure you head over there next and lend him your own down home thoughts on what character means to you.
When outlining your main characters, you think about their purpose in the story, you contemplate various names, physical traits, habits, etc., but do you think about their character? By character, I mean those traits that make up how an individual, in this case, your character, reacts to the ups and downs that life (or an author) throws at them. Traits like the ones described in the Knight’s Chivalric Code; honesty, self-discipline, courage, justice, mercy, generosity, faith, nobility, and hope are great examples. Isaac Asimov’s three laws of robotics is also an example of a fictional code. The First Law states that “A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.” What kind of character do your characters have?
I believe that having a code of conduct for your characters helps make the decisions about how they respond in difficult situations a bit easier. It’s a good idea to keep your traits general at first. You can expand on the traits as needed. Since character is not easy to define due to its complexity, you should focus on no more than three or four attributes per group of beings. We’ve all heard the saying that actions speak louder than words. A character’s true personality or character will show in their actions. This is why knowing your character’s character is important. If you struggle with defining a set of social norms, the 5 questions below can help you develop your own social code for particular group.
5 Questions To Develop a Social Code
1. Is there a driving central theme or passion for this group? Klingon’s love battle and value honor above all else.
2. Are there specific traits you need this group to have (or lack) for your story to work? Orcs in Lord of the Ring are utterly bloodthirsty and destructive.
3. Are there traits you want to emphasize/de-emphasize? You have a culture that respects property very highly and your main character is kleptomaniac.
4. Do you need a society’s character to change in the course of the story? The peace loving Ewoks in Star Wars are forced to fight for their home with the rebels.
5. Does your society have a central character flaw or strength? Asimov’s Foundation has the planet Trantor where conformity, obedience and acceptance are expected.
Once the societal norm is established, look at the main characters and decide what are their strengths and weaknesses according to this norm. Use these questions as a starting point for laying a framework for your character’s character.
5 Questions for Character
1. What drives or compels them to do what they do?
2. What are their character strengths?
3. What are their weaknesses?
4. What is important to them?
5. What are they willing to die for?
Hopefully these questions have made you think about character in a new light and perhaps even the effect of that character’s struggle on the character of your reader. I would love hear your thoughts on this. Leave a comment so we can discuss it.
Shawn Griffith currently has two writing projects underway. One is a non-fiction work about the importance of understanding, identifying, and promoting good character development in ourselves and those we influence. The other is a work of science fiction and is in the formative stages. You can find out more about Shawn by visiting his blog Down Home Thoughts. It is a collection of wisdom, character and common sense thoughts passed along from his parents, grandparents and others, with a dash of stories, photos, book reviews and other writings.