A character must be unforgetable. One you could pick out above all others. One you either hate, love, feel sad for, wish you'd never heard of, or one you would shoot yourself. The goal is to make the reader remember this character, good or bad.
|Well, there's just no getting around it. Good characters require great writing and great acting. I don't care how many gimmicks you pull out of your arse.
One of my favorite characters in modern lit is the attorney Tom Killian in Tom Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities. As far as I'm concerned he out-trumped all the others in the book, including Sherman McCoy. How they could make a movie and ignore this is one of the great travesties in latter day film adaptations. Of course, the film is a travesty, itself, but with idiot sensibilities such as this, it's no great wonder how they turned a literary masterpiece into utter cinematic drek.
Another misguided piece of hogwash is Stranger than Fiction. I've never read or seen a more dishonest piece of filmmaking in my life. Everything from Will Ferrell's IRS man to Maggie Gyllenhaal's tattoed baker lady stunk so putridly of falsity and college boy contrivance, well, it's no wonder it was such a darling of the pseudo-intellectual set.
Today's screenwriters face a very specific challenge, especially in the Clint Eastwood, Tobey Maguire era of film acting. I'm using them as examples, although it is certainly not exclusive to these two fine actors. Gary Cooper, Redford, and even Cary Grant in his latter career were rather laconic characters with impassable, nearly inscrutable, expressions. Interestingly enough, Cary Grant started off as a highly plastic, over the top comedic actor. (Gunga Din, Monkey Business, Arsenic an Old Lace). It's this attribute that makes George Clooney so irresistible. There's nary a peer who can navigate between the broad antics of O Brother Where Art Thou and the deep characterizations of Michael Clayton so seamlessly.
For some reason film heroes, film acting and film writing are quite monotonal in what they can withstand on the big screen. I guess I've always preferred animation for this precise reason. I love bigger than life characters, but they are much more difficult to write and even that much more difficult to suspend disbelief. (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is a rare exercise in perfection. Blake Edwards' entire filmography--unequaled!)
Unfortunately, contemporary story analysts and studio development execs are mistrustful of this style of characterization. That's why you don't see too many Ace Venturas and Austin Powers after their initial runs (and perhaps why they peter out so quickly.)
Hot characters and personalities tend to be mistaken for bad dialogue and even worse writing. Either that, or they're too difficult to cast. There's only a handful of actors like Jim Carrey and Mike Meyers who can "animate" their heroes the way Danny Kaye or Jack Lemmon did. As far as believability is concerned I believe the plot and the supporting characters are what lift the protagonist above the fray. It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World is a post-doctoral course in creating dramatis personae of either ilk. Just look at the fantastic array of personalities and comic genius. It's truly breathtaking.
Preston Sturges was a master at it, and generally solved this problem by casting Joel McCrea, Dick Powell or Henry Fonda, as the straight man, and then surround them with a repertory straight out of Looney Tunes.
For me, creating characters is a love affair. If I'm not 100% in love with every facet of their lives: how they speak, how they take a dump, what they want and what they're willing to do to get what they want, then, I'm outtie.
A believable character is complicated. They have a broad perspective of reactions and thoughts. People are capable of anything.
I don't know everything about my characters when I first start writing a story. I might know a little bit, say like something they do or something they like. I might know how they feel about certain things, but as I write the story, the characters show me how they feel or react to what the situation throws at them. I'm just there translating it for potential readers.
And when the characters show me how they feel, they require me to step into their shoes and see things from their own eyes. So, I'm pulled down into the exact situation they're in, and I'm seeing things happen first hand.
In order for a charatcer to be believable, you as the writer have to make them look, feel and act real. I actually sit down and write out descriptions for each character. I write out the occupations, how they dress, where they live, how they speak and act, everything. This helps me when it comes to writing the story because it serves as a reference for me.
Michael: if I can feel it.
Judy: humanized atributes that stem from frailties.
I think if you base the characters upon real people, and think about how they act, what they say, and exaggerate to the nth degree, that is what works for me... for instance, I wrote about a quadrangle teen love thingy that was originally based upon a crush I had in my senior year of high school. I took that premise and true love situation and ran away with it and made it about four teenagers, Betty loves Bob, Bob loves Ginny, Ginny loves Ralph and of course Ralph loves Betty...
We are such creatures of habit, and characters have to be so as well. They can and should surprise us, and they should evolve over the course of a story (can't tell everything at once), but there has to be a gut consistency. My characters pop into my head uninvited and then I play with them, test them constantly, write scenes from different points of view. Often I do this out loud before putting a scene down on paper. That's freeing for me.
Well, I usually baser a lot of the story from experience. I draw upon many people that I have met either casually or more intimately. I may change their descriptions and use some dialogue I've engaged in with them! My journal is an excellent source for this. For this reason, much of my work may be considered realistic fiction.
I think a character can only be believable when they act, think and react as real people would. I think you need to suspend reality by making people think "I would have done the same thing." I do not create my characters. The characters create themselves and talk through me, as if they are alive and living in the world I put them in. In this way, they seem more real and believable.
The interior, mental sounds he or she hears and makes must mimic those in life; the pace at which characters speak and think must not be too perfect. There must never be pat or easy answers, and obvious "messages" usually don't help. Life is messy and complicated: the way characters interpret the world should be, too.
I think a character has to come alive through description, dialogue, and interaction with other characters. Also having an omniscient narrator who gives some background to the person's personality adds believability to a character. I create my characters with the same criteria as above.
I base most of my characters off of myself. After all, the number one rule of writing is: "Write what you know."
You need to know your character more than anything. And who do you know more than yourself? You do the math. If you want another character, then look at the people closest to you.
A fictional character to be believable must have a credible back story and must behave in accordance with the established nature of real people in face of crisis and conflict as accurately depicted within a given framework of invention. If it's an historical character then to be credible they must act as history so indicated they did and/or as one can intelligently extrapolate they might have conceivably behaved, based upon a close analysis of their character amidst particular events given as many facts concerning such as one can possibly amass and inspect. The more one knows, the better one can intelligently speculate.
Honesty in thought, word, and deed. Characters need to be people, not the representation of ideas.
To make a character believable I generally place myself mentally in the same position and then write what my honest response would be. My characters are far from perfect, all very humanly flawed and each possessing quirks that make them unique. In many instances, I will step away from the writing and verbally paint a scenario with my wife and allow it to play out in a form of acting. That's a terrific way to create believable characters and credible situations.