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Posts Tagged ‘Character’

It has been a few days since my last post as I’ve spent the majority of my free time watching the latest episodes of HBO’s Game of Thrones. George RR. Martin is one of the great fantasy writers of our time, but I was skeptical when I first heard that his acclaimed series was going to put on HBO. But after watching the first episode last year, I was hooked by the story all over again. Outstanding in nearly every respect, I can say little to disparage this captivatingly dark fantasy.

When I find a story as enthralling as this, I like to try and pick apart the pattern and find the threads that really tug at me. Most often, I discover that characters are at the other end. Characters such as Daenerys, Tyrion, Arya and Robb are, for me, the most relatable in the show up to date, and retain the perfect balance of internal growth and external action, which only makes their performances that much more remarkably evocative.

However, I’ve noticed that I learn nearly as much when studying characters that I utterly despise, which brings me to Joffrey Baratheon. Jack Gleeson was a perfect cast for this smarmy self-important twat who seems to do nothing but make me loath every single fiber of his being. He actually reminds me of Commodus from Gladiator, which remains one of my favorite films due largely in part to Joaquin Phoenix’ marvelously odious portrayal of the character. Though Commodus is considerably more calculating and intelligent than Joffrey, they both are infuriating, cowardly and bitterly sadistic. I did find Commodus to be a more of a well-rounded character as his greed, cruelty and hatred are balanced by desperation, anxiety and loneliness. He feels abandoned by both his father and his sister, who have chosen to deliver unto Maximus what Commodus believed to be his right, whether it be the Empire of Rome or simply their love and respect.

And just like Commodus, Joffrey is a pitiful character. We almost come to enjoy hating him. His mannerisms, his speech, his smug little smile, all seem to make you want to throttle him.  I believe that any character that can rouse such sentiments in a viewer or reader is a successful one, even if he is a sniveling spoiled brat like Joffrey. These types of characters push you to root for the protagonist, to invest in the crisis of the story, and to revel in their inevitable downfall.  But they also exist to show the viewer a side of human nature that is forcibly repressed.  The fact of the matter is that Joffrey is a product of his parents twisted sense of self-importance. We hate him because we hate the idea that such appalling qualities could reside within us all. As a writer, we must be able to create characters so abhorrently vile that we cringe every time we write them onto the page. A nameless evil that threatens the realm is all well and good, but a revoltingly pompous little shit is so much more satisfying to squash.

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“Stories may well be lies, but they are good lies that say true things.” – Neil Gaiman

In my opinion Character is the most important aspect of any story. The main character is the person with whom the reader/viewer can identify and follow throughout the course of the narrative. The story’s meaning is created by the character’s reaction to the events of the story and by how the resolution of the conflict influences/reveals the protagonist’s ‘true character’.

But what is ‘true character’? It’s a character’s genuine nature, the essence of who they really are. The true purpose of Story is to reveal ‘true character’ by means of extreme pressure or crisis. The greater the stakes, the more true to character the reaction will be. It’s through this that the reader comes to understand what the writer is trying to say, what the significance of the story is in relation to the greater concepts in life. A writer must never simply tell the reader how to feel.

Usually when creating character, the author will write a character development sheet in order to visualize how that character will react or affect different situations. Story is a world of causality that centers around the actions and reactions between characters. The writer must attempt to know their character’s ‘true nature’ before the story even begins. But how can character be created or revealed without story? If a character is defined by what they say and what they do, then how can we define them before they have done or said anything at all?

I then thought of how we are defined by our actions, and how our lives are given meaning by what we do. What meaning has the story of my life taken? What’s my ‘true character’? I used a typical character development sheet to evaluate my own self-image, my own nature. The experience of self-reflection is one that I would recommend to all writers. Though you don’t attain some greater knowledge of self that reveals the meaning of your life, it does help in understanding how your personality was created by your actions, and visa versa. It’s great source work for any good character. Just because a character is an artificial construct you’ve created, doesn’t mean that the feelings the reader experiences due to their actions aren’t genuine and real.

When writing always keep in mind that a character’s purpose is to reveal the meaning of the story, a writer’s purpose is to tell that story. 

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