I'm in the midst of finishing a book, and feeling sort of written out, so I thought I'd share a little piece of it with you, if that's all right. Any thoughts on it appreciated, of course, including the title, which i like for the right reason (it gets right to the point), and don't love, probably for the wrong reason (it's blatantly commercial), and yet, i've worked hard to become a more commercial writer. i feel less torn over its subtitle, Is a Children's Book a Movie in Disguise, which i think serves as the spot on introduction to the bit i'm offering here:
When you read, you’re often choosing from a type of story you already know you like best. in the same way, we tend to “like” actors who often personify a role that fits into stories of the kind we like to find in film. They reflect some part of ourselves, something familiar, or perhaps unrealized—a way we already see ourselves, or the way we would like to. As a writer, in the early getting-to-know-you period of working with my central character, it's helpful to me to have this basic type in mind. if we can glide past some sticky gender issues, as well as ageism, I think of central characters in three categories, Tom Hanks, Bruce Willis, and Jack Nicholson.
Tom. We always like Tom. Even when he’s playing a hit man, he’s still a genuine family man, he isn’t really despicable. He’s maybe even a bit of an underdog, and how often do we say that about somebody holding a handgun?
Bruce. The stand up guy. Paint him as a poor guy trying to get his wife to come back to him, or living in a ghastly dystopian society driving a cab, or, worse yet, he’s sacrificing his life on an asteroid—well, that’s it exactly. How many guys, or gals, do you see standing up to volunteer?
And Jack. Hmmm. We see things to admire, but they’re usually paired with something that makes us stand back and put on gloves before we shake hands. He’s often funny, frequently wise, mostly sharp witted and snappy of tongue. All while showing the seamier side of our life. And of the three, I still think he’d make the most interesting partner at a dinner table, don’t you?
Still, I mostly write about the Tom’s of life. Because that’s who I am, a regular guy, no fancy moves, and it’s who I understand best. Like me, my characters can step into other shoes for brief moments, but they generally regret those moments. As I often do.
You have to take a close look at your characters and decide where on this continuum they reside. There are, of course, characters that carve out a continuum of their own, and if you write them, you’re no doubt able to define the borders within which they live. Or after a couple of educational errors, you will be able to.
But these are characteristics to help you, the writer, get a firm grip on the nature of your character and his environment as you begin writing. You want to start out with a round peg that lets you get a good start on the story, they can develop quirky corners once you're both on the road to the middle.
Your reader isn’t thinking of character in these terms. She wants to care about your protagonist. She wants to get involved. She may want to love him a little bit, right from the start, or she comes to the story wanting to root for him, or wanting him to validate something of her own experience.
Rightfully so. A story is not so much about what happens as it is about who it happened to. Character takes us into the story, and if it works for us, holds us there. The right character makes us feel like we’re part of that story.
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