Thursday, June 3, 2010
Lemonade From Lemons
And by the next day, we had enough crabs to get together with our neighbors and have a fantastic cookout.
This got me thinking about characters and characterization, or more specifically, what make a character sympathetic. Creating likeable and sympathetic characters is one of the most difficult tasks a writer tackles. It’s a skill I constantly have to work at, because I’m often more interested in the prickly characters that most people don’t like. Perhaps because in “real life,” I’m drawn to those same kinds of people: the ones who appear grumpy, rude and disagreeably honest. For example, the teachers everyone else hated in school because they actually had expectations and made you put in the effort to learn something. When you earned an A from one of them, you'd accomplished something!
Unfortunately, it's not easy to make grumpy characters appealing…but as I thought about our weekend and how it turned out, I realized that the ability to keep on trying in the face of all discouragement, hardship, and bad luck is an important element. The strength of character and fortitude to go on in the face of adversity is what makes our heroes and heroines worthy of those titles. Ultimately, it is also what makes the reader love them.
This is not to say that my husband and I did anything heroic this weekend when we figured out a way around our own minor setbacks. However, it did spark that small flicker of understanding that the ability to make lemonade out of lemons is a critical trait for our characters. It’s what will ultimately allow them to triumph.
So if you’re writing about characters who leave a lot to be desired on the kindness front, it might serve you well to give that character a setback or a problem to solve in the first chapter. Not the huge problem they are going to have to tackle to make it to the happy ending, but a small thing. It is how that character reacts to a setback that will reveal if they have The Right Stuff, or not. If the character shrugs and gives up, the reader will too, because who wants to read about someone who gives up at the first sign of trouble?
Oddly, enough, it’s that same trait—or what my Mom used to call, “stick-to-it-tive-ness”—that makes each and every one of us the hero or heroine of our own real life stories.
It is also one of the fundamental traits of the men and women we honor on Memorial day. The heroes and heroines in our armed forces never give up—even if they ultimately sacrifice their lives to preserve freedom for the rest of us. I’m grateful to them and proud to live in a country that remembers our heroes.
Posted by Amy at 8:23 AM