Character is everything

Here is another great guest post, this time from the fellow sci-fi author Theresa Snyder, who analyses what makes a very good character and how to have one even in sci-fi stories.

Last weekend I saw yet another visually stunning science fiction film with lack luster characters. Science fiction seems to be the home of under developed characters with overblown settings both in books and film. Technology cannot take the place of artful character development.
Characters are the soul of any story. They need to be vivid, relatable.
Let’s look at some good examples:
In Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card the reader feels the isolation of Ender. They experience his loneliness as each successive person he learns to care about is ripped from his life.
In Born of Night by Sherrilyn Kenyon the reader is compelled to relive Nykyrian’s difficult past along with him in order to accomplish his mission. The reader wants him to succeed. The reader longs for him to be redeemed.
Han Solo in the Star Wars saga stands out as a well developed motion picture character. He’s one you can sink your teeth into - the rogue who is redeemed in spite of his past.
Pick a novel, any novel, or a movie. If you loved it, that love was based on the author’s ability to wrap you up in the life of their characters. Vivid characters are the soul of a great story. What makes a character come alive? What gets an audience involved and compels them to keep reading or watch yet another sequel?
If you search the internet you will find lists of rules for character development. These are the ones that keep me reading or shelling out the big bucks for the blockbusters. As a writer these are the ones I try to make sure my characters abide by:
  1. Physical Description. This doesn’t have to be regurgitated in a couple of sentences when the character is first introduced. It can be handed out in bits and pieces to link together and fill in the empty spots with your imagination. Game of Thrones’ author George R. R. Martin crafts great physical descriptions.
  2. Mannerisms. They bring a character to life whether they run their hands through their hair in frustration or bite their lower lip when thinking, chew on a pencil, or nibble on chocolates. It makes the character come to life. How creepy was Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight with his incessant tongue action?
  3. Interaction. Seeing the character through someone, or something’s, eyes. What did the love for a dog tell us about Will Smith’s character in I am Legend? As short a part as Chris Hemsworth’s had as George Kirk in Star Trek we felt his sacrifice and his longing through his pregnant wife.

Well written, snappy dialogue is a must. A book will not be put down or a mind loss interest in a movie where the characters deliver lines that Zing. Think Avengers or any Joss Whedon script. Ensemble work, whether on stage, in a movie or in a book is a wonder to behold if well written. The people who surround the main characters can’t just be stage props, they need to play off the other characters and give the reader more of a sense of purpose by their association.
  1. Inner Voice. Hearing the thoughts of the character enlightens the audience. How they see the situation they are in. How they feel they can solve it. Sometimes these are the strongest indications of a character’s soul. Rector in Cherie Priest’s steampunk novel The Inexplicables gives the reader insight into his conflicted feelings as an addict forced to clean up his act due to the influence of his new companions in an apocalyptic Seattle.
  2. Conflict. This is central to both plot and character. When the character needs to overcome some personal obstacle in order to lay both their demons and the plot to rest, this is great writing. The character of Katniss Everdeen in the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins comes to my mind. She is forced into her role, but then must make the best of her evolving influence over her tortured world.
  3. Reaction. Often the plots telegraph where they are leading us and we go willingly. There are only so many storylines out there. We may not be disappointed if the character’s react properly. If the story has given us two characters that are emotionally involved and one is hurt – dies – is driven away, we want the character left behind to feel that loss. Let the character cry. Let them be angry and do something rash. Don’t write them as unfeeling stick figures. And on another side of this point, don’t let a character overlook a solution that is so very, very obvious to the author’s audience. Characters should not be dumb.
With all the above said, I must confess it was Oblivion that drove me to rail about better characters. The film was visually stunning. The characters were flat, paper cut outs. Where is the Reaction (No. 6 - above) of loss when Jack sees his partner killed in the breathtakingly beautiful sky house? Where is the wonder of finding his wife still alive? Is it too much to ask for some rage at the thought that he was fooled, manipulated, cloned?

I wait in anticipation as the summer science fiction blockbusters roll out. I bury myself in novels that are better written and hope for improvement from the studios. I never give up on looking for characters that will engage me - characters with heart.

Theresa Snyder
Sci-fi, fantasy & non-fiction author

THERESA SNYDER is a sci-fi, fantasy and sometimes non-fiction writer with aninternationally read blog. She recently published Vol. 1 of her Star Traveler Series on Kindle, The Helavite War.
Her plan is to post the other five volumes over the next six months. Her non-fiction book bas
ed on her years spent as a caregiver to her parents is also available on Kindle.
She spends her free time in quiet contemplation of other worlds and unique characters.

Visit Theresa online on:
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