April 16, 2015

Crafting Characters Like Clay

Image from Creative Commons
In biblical times there was a common Near Eastern image of the gods crafting humans with clay. There's also the fact that my sisters have been watching Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers (where the villains and monsters are made of clay and are sent to wreak havoc on the unsuspecting teens). Anyway, I haven't been able to get this image out of my head and every time I sit to write the image is there- crafting characters from clay.

Being a writer is like being a potter. Like the gods of old, we craft our characters by hand, pushing and prodding at them until they take the form we want them to. We sit, silently, before them watching as they begin to transform under the guidance of our gentle touch. It can be a messy thing sometimes, at least, it is if you struggle with organization like I do. And when you finish, it must be put through the kiln. In the same way, our characters must be tried by fire.

Something many writers struggle with is "being a jerk" to their characters. That is, providing a deluge of problems that the character must wade through in order to emerge triumphant. But the more bitter his struggles, the more sweet his triumph will be. My recommendation is to not hold back. Be rude to your characters. Be a jerk. Be mean and torture them. Put your characters through Hell. It makes them stronger and without it your character is incomplete.

It is not enough to just create a great character - without their struggles and interactions with others they are incomplete. They must be put to the test, given time and subjected to the flames of trial and tribulation. Only then is the character, like your earthenware, finished.

HelpingWritersBecomeAuthors has an excellent article on crafting character arcs that I highly recommend.

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