Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Behind the Mask

Even suspense novelists understand it's not all about the plot. Me included.

The question is how can I create memorable characters who are multi-dimensional right out of the box. Characters who respond and act in a consistent manner based on who they are at their core—behind their masks.

On the recommendation of some multi-published suspense novelists, I purchased a DVD series by Michael Hauge (author of Writing Screenplays That Sell) and Christopher Vogler (author of The Writer's Journey).

The Hero's 2 Journeys is available directly from the makers, and right now the DVD version is on sale. I'm a visual learner (even though we're talking a static camera in a classroom setting), so that was important to me. The course is also available on CD.

Let's pretend I'm developing a central figure in a walloping good story. To make my protagonist an interesting character, someone worthy of a reader investing their time and hopes in, that character must have experienced a wound.

And the wound needs to have been inflicted prior to the opening sentence of the story.

A wound can be one catastrophic event (death, rape, loss) or it can be something endured over time (bad foster homes, belittling, incest).

For protection, my character will create an identity for themselves that keeps them safe. An identity that they hold on to up until the Point of No Return. A mask that must be ripped off in order for them to be fully realized. An exterior facade that must be killed in order for them to go from Identity to Essence.

This process goes hand-in-hand with the outer journey of your hero.

If you're feeling the need to take your character awareness to the next step, this is a series you want to check into.

CR: Deception by Randy Alcorn.

It's all better with friends.


  1. Very interesting. I don't think I had made that conscious realization, but all of my characters had that in their pasts. Very, very interesting...

  2. I think we do a lot of things right instinctively. We peel through the layers of a character until we get to what we think of as their heart. But there is power in learning to understand, and label, the different layers of the peel sitting on the counter in front of us. Armed with that knowlege, we can learn to understand a more difficult, secretive character we're dealing with.

    It's kind of like Feng Shui. You may not understand all of the elements, but you know when you need to move that picture two inches to the left. Once you move it, the world is right. Balance has been restored. The beauty is in understanding why.

  3. I'm always hesitant about rules in writing, although I agree that some of them turn out to be things that we do automatically because they speak to some deeper truth, or reflect archetypes maybe. Maybe what's meant by a prior wound translates to "flawed," which any good character must be since no one's perfect. But immediately upon reading this the devil's advocate in me started picturing someone who'd lead an utterly charmed life, a life that was just about to take its first turn for the worse as the book began...

    At any rate, glad it's helping, Peg! I also think we find those sources that resonate with the particular book we're writing, and they can be life changing (or at least book changing)...

  4. Jenny, I agree with you regarding rules. Chris Roerden makes the point that there really aren't any rules—but there are preferences and biases.

    Learning what those preferences and biases are, and why they exist, makes it easier to identify where and how to deviate . . . and why.

    I have to say that in this DVD set, I learned that filmmaking, Hollywod-style, is incredibly structured. Although there are always exceptions, it's amazing that any creativity gets through.

  5. That does sound interesting. Maybe that's why it took so long for my character to start talking again.

  6. LOL, Sheila. It's amazing how much our characters keep from us, isn't it?