Character versus Caricature

by RS on May 19, 2014

DeathInTheAfternoon

“When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature.” Ernest Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon

During my hiatus from working on the WIP, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about my characters and suffering over their roles, but mostly whether they’re full-fleshed real people versus flat caricatures. I’ve put them all on trial and the jury is now out and the verdicts are: with the exception of three characters, you have menage of stereotypes. Now it’s back to the interview process and plumping their biographies for ALL of them, including the ones who passed the jury’s muster.

It’s a daunting project because it isn’t just about what how they look or sound, or what their story is at that particular moment, it’s about capturing their essence, true character, what makes them tick and how their attitudes affect their story at that point in their lives. Some of the questions that need to be answered include:

  • How does the character see the future?
  • What makes life worthwhile for the character?
  • What does the character see as worth dying for?
  • What does the character most hate?
  • What does the character try to avoid?
  • What is the character most embarrassed by?
  • What is the character most fixated on?
  • Any chemical substance use/abuse?
  • How does the character handle change?
  • Can the character easily empathize with others?
  • Does the character experience severe mood swings?
  • How does the character see his/herself?

These are the type of questions that need to be raised for every single character. It’s a lot more than Goal, Motivation, and Conflict. It’s a psychological profile. Once I’ve filled in those blanks, I’ll know why they do what they do and maybe I’ll make some surprising discoveries.

Do you play shrink with your characters? What surprises have you discovered?

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