Learning about Your Character

I just spent a couple minutes trying to decide whether the “about” in the title for this post needs to be capitalized. I’d look it up, but I’m sure there’s an equal number of people on the Internet vouching for either side of the debate. So I’m going to leave it as is, and if anyone takes umbrage, so be it. Yes, I am paid to teach English and would like to make a living as a writer.

Speaking of which – I know you’re not supposed to spend a lot of time talking about your current WIP and the progress you’re making, since apparently nobody cares, but I’m going to anyway because it’s actually going really well. Swapping daily word counts with my awesome writing partner has gotten me about 3/4 of the way through my first draft in about a month and a half. This has required me to be consistently planning ahead in my outline a little more than usual, which has also proven really useful, since my process before has been to come up with a lot of details about my world and characters and just a skeleton of a plot, filling in a bunch of the specific details as I write.

As much as I like to think I understand my characters before I start a first draft, I surprised myself the other day with one of my supporting characters. The guy is the captain of a group of soldiers my hero has joined up with, and I knew right from the start that he’s … to put it mildly, kind of a pompous asshole. His purpose is to clash with some of my main protagonists, who have to tolerate him because he’s nominally in command and is actually pretty good in a fight. But I didn’t really realize the depth to this guy’s behavior until a scene I wrote a couple days ago, where he crushes someone else’s hopes for redemption. Once I was finished the scene, and I reread his dialogue, I thought to myself, “Wow. This guy is such a tool.”

(My exact phrasing was a bit more severe, but apparently some of my students actually look me up here once in a while. You’d think they have better things to do than read my ramblings. Like finish their assignments.)

The obvious next thought to this, on further reflection, is that I’m the guy who wrote the dialogue. So maybe I have the capacity to be this much of a tool. Since I don’t feel like delving down that particular psychological rabbit hole, I’ll just blame the character for being that way, and secretly applaud him for showing me exactly the kind of person he is. He’s supposed to be this much of a jerk, and so I’m happy that I could really demonstrate that in what is admittedly a very short scene. In a couple chapters, this dialogue will make what happens to him all the more satisfying to write.

This is a totally normal thought process for a writer, by the way. Trust me.


4 thoughts on “Learning about Your Character

  1. I am not sure if I have ever questioned my own personalilty as a result of writing scene where someone acts in a less than ‘pleasant’ way…i am pretty sure some writer write from experience though 😉
    PS would fascinated to know what word you would have used.
    PSS If writers couldn’t talk about their WIP they probably wouldn’t say very much at all 🙂

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