March 23, 2015

Create a Believable, Likable Character - Part 5

In the four previous posts, we've talked about what makes a good character and begun to develop the fictional character Captain Anslo Garrick of the Alliance starship Prospect.  Today, we'll develop Garrick's Inner Demons and Conflicts, see if we've got the right elements to have a believable, likable character, and discuss the next steps in developing him.

Garrick's Inner Demons and Conflicts

Already, we've established some of Garrick's inner demons and conflicts:

  • He's a risk taker, in a fleet of officers who are being actively discouraged from taking risks.
  • He's the last of his family line unless he marries and has children.
  • He's in command of the Prospect, despite a personal wish to retire and settle down.  He's questioning Admiral Boxleitner's decision to put him here, and his own decision to accept it.
  • He's just indirectly caused the death of his best friend..  
  • He wonders if all those times he survived difficulties as a test pilot has used up all his luck.
  • The friend who died was also the last of his family line.  He doesn't want to be responsible for doing that to anyone else.
  • Garrick wanted to retire, not explore space.  He's questioning whether the benefits of space exploration are worth the cost in lives.
  • Garrick believes in the Alliance as a concept, and in the Alliance Council leadership, but still has some distrust of politicians and the Earth government.
  • He's an honest man, in a world where not everyone is honest.

This is probably more than enough emotional and mental baggage for Garrick, so I think we're done there.

Garrick in Terms of Swain's Traits of a Likable Character

Dwight Swain tells us that in order for readers to identify with (and hopefully like) a character, the character must have some or all of these qualities:

  • The character is a victim of undeserved misfortune.
  • The character is in danger of losing something important to him.
  • The character has a likable manner... a good heart and is well-liked by others.
  • The character has a sense of humor and the courage to make jokes we wouldn't.
  • The character is a powerful, strong, capable individual.
How does Anslo Garrick stack up?  Let's see:
  • He recently lost his brother to an accident, and his best friend to an alien microbe.
  • He's the last of his family line, and he's in danger of ending it.  In the upcoming story, he's in danger of losing his life and that of his crew.
  • He took time to help his mother get back on her feet and grieved at the loss of his best friend.  He cares about the Alliance and wants to do the right thing.  He's honest, and other characters seem to like him.
  • He's capable and strong, having survived many mishaps as a test pilot for the Alliance.  During the story, we'll learn that he's an able commander.
The only thing missing is a sense of humor, but this can be illustrated in the story during his interaction with others.

The Final Step - Garrick's Voice

Max Drake taught me something very valuable last year at the Origins Game Fair in Columbus.  He said that once you've assigned a role to your character, laid out his description and backstory, and are satisfied with what you have, the next step is to start seeing the world through that character's eyes.  You do this by identifying pivotal moments in the character's life, which happened well before the story you're going to tell.  Then, you take the time and effort to write out scenes showing those pivotal moments.  These will probably never be used in your story.  They're here for you to get to know your character and understand how he thinks.

Drake said that empathy with the character is key here.  You need to be able to cast aside your own beliefs, fears, hang-ups, etc., and adopt the character's.  For example, you may be perfectly comfortable with insects.  Your character, on the other hand, is deathly afraid of them.  She was once accidentally locked in an attic filled with flies, spiders, and ants.  So you write that scene and try your very best to imagine being the little girl trapped in an attic with lots of scary bugs.  Hopefully, you come away from the experience understanding why she fears insects. (I know, spiders are arachnids and not technically insects... bear with me.)

When I look over what I know about Garrick to this point, the pivotal moments are some or all of the following:

  • He had one very disastrous test flight where he wound up stranded with a broken ship on an alien planet and had to fix it.
  • On the day he filed for discharge from the fleet, his brother died in an accident on a construction site.  He had to spend time with his mother to help her get past it.
  • Admiral Laura Boxleitner refused to accept his discharge and convinced him to take command of the Prospect.
  • There is an away mission to a planet where a race of advanced aliens was wiped out, during which Garrick's best friend dies from infection by an alien microbe.

In the next post, I'll show you what I came up with for scenes showing these pivotal moments. 

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