Where characters are born, good, bad, or evil
In the first stage of birth, the novel must deliver characters. So who are they? Female or male; are they protagonists, the goodies, or antagonists, the baddies, the ones who are going to stir up trouble in some form or another leaving the goodies to fight it all, whether it be physically or mentally?. Next come the secondary characters that surprisingly can in the first instance be the prime movers, introducing a chief protagonist. There can also be two protagonists namely the hero and heroine forming the basis for romance or a Boudicca, queen of the Iceni against the Roman Emperor. A secondary character can sometimes primarily drive or introduce the main protagonist.
Some writers even before planning the outline for the novel may well look for the personality and outward personality traits of the characters. There is of course, the writer who does not plan but writes without prior thinking on the characters, plot or storyline. However, for this type of writer once the character emerges, she or he usually then fills in the character traits. With either form of writing, uncovering the character traits, in my opinion, will be the driving force for the storyline. As a writer may say, there is the story-driven plot and the character-driven plot, I for one prefer the latter.
It’s good, to begin with, the outward personality traits, the one the protagonist shows to the world.
Nibbling on a pen or fingers on the keys, the writer will begin uncovering traits. Usually, he or she might have a certain type of personality in mind, but sometimes in delving deeper, the writer will uncover traits that could well become the driving force of the novel. Questions arise on the veracity of the personality traits for the intended story that may be accepted. For instance, what is the extent of the character’s knowledge; is he an academic or does he prefer sport, or is it a historical novel, hunting and shooting? Will the male protagonist appear passive in nature or outgoing? What of his bravery, does he appear to shout courage, or whisper of fear? Is he a vital or subdued character? Is she positive or depressed in her demeanour? Or to foes, does he show strength in an intense but quiet determination that brooks no opposition? These questions set the tone of the character and the story.
The same goes for the heroine, but again is it a historic or contemporary novel? A woman of Regency times was subjugated to an inferior role by the male; indeed it was believed she had a much smaller brain and far fewer teeth than men – shades of Aristotle. So to the traits of our heroine. Is she submissive? Fearful? Or quiet but determined?. Or was she a feisty miss liable to tantrums as the men fondly thought, giving the male the odd kick in the shins? Again her character has a significant even driving force on the plot and storyline.
So having looked very briefly at possibilities of character traits, one can see a plot forming, for instance, a quietly determined male with the threat of aggression in his sapphire blue eyes, teamed with a feisty female, leading to a firecracker of a plot. Alternatively, it could be the extroverted, flamboyant male breaks through the subdued character of the female, feeding her strength and a belief in herself after a tyrannical upbringing, either in historical or contemporary backgrounds. Or yet again, it may be the strong silent type, who falls for a fickle female who it turns out, was cruelly treated as a child, or by a former lover, turning her to fight against the trappings of polite society.
The other characters in the storyline should have various characters traits that arouse the interest or alarm of the reader, but not so much that they push the main characters into the background. Meaning, they must not have too much foreground disclosure.
With further depth and embellishment of the characters, the story builds as the writer turns to the internal and intra-personal traits of the characters. The outward behaviour may tell a different story to the internal character. The aggressive blustering male may be shielding a wounded personality, and if so, what wounds did he experience? This takes us deeper into the character and the story. We may have a woman with flighty behaviour or who is oversexed, who succumbs too easily to the male, out of fear of being unloved or rejected. Or again, there is the man who takes on woman after woman only to discard them at the slightest sniff of marriage, this is a man rejected by the love of his life whose trust in women is broken. This is a very familiar theme but points the way to delving deeper into the internal traits of the character. The wounded personalities are fertile ground for a plot within a plot.
This leads to the difference between normal or extreme characters, for example, one can have an aggressive male who despises himself for his outbursts of anger which he cannot control, a man who longs for someone to have the strength to not only stand up to him but put him right, to use the vernacular. Again an old plot well used in romance, but again it can have twists and turns, that develops and enriches the plot giving originality. It’s a case of an angry male looking for a female who sees beneath the armour of the warrior to the wounded sensitive man within.
The formation of the outer and inner traits of the character has numerous dimensions. So many stories can be formed from just a couple of the examples above. Of course, it does become more intricate according to the skill and dedication of the author, and also whether the author wants to please the public or delve into their own soul.
There are some wonderful books on character formation and personality traits, which will help enormously in deepening the characters and the story.
I personally, often turn to Edeston’s ‘Writer’s Guide to Character Traits.’
I have put on a small list of books below, which is an incredible source of information leading to ideas for imaginative stories from the character traits above or for those leaning to Sci Fi, Fantasy, Time Travel and shapeshifting. I hope you enjoyed this. It’s really sent me down memory lane to a rebirth of ideas for plots that I can use today. Freud is in the soup, as he is ideal for ideas on erotica, dramatic or comedy.
- Edelston, PH. D. Writer’s Guide to Character Traits. Writer’s Digest Books.
Carl Jung. Archetypes. Great for Fantasy.
Stanislav Grof – Transpersonal Psychology. You can find out a lot more about him in Wikipedia. This psychologist is a different ball game and an exciting one. This field of psychology is of great value not only to psychology but also to the writer of fantasy, time travel and fertile ground for shapeshifters.
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Katy lives on the South coast with her husband and a loving hyper friendly dog who likes to greet and lick everyone on sight. She has a BA Hons (Psych) BA Eng.Lit. MA in Religion and Mysticism and a Hon Dr. Science for research into pain control.
She was a psychologist and hypnotherapist before changing direction for full time creative writing, Her main genres are historical romance, crime and science fiction.