Character Flaws Part 1 - A Piece Of My Mind
The measure of a man's real character is what he would do if he knew he would never be found out---Thomas B. Macaulay
Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.-- Abraham Lincoln
I have written a few short stories and a couple of novels (I have one in progress at this time) in my day. Creating characters is one of the hardest things to do for any writer. Let me relay this to a person thing in my life.
I did a Science Fiction convention many years ago (22 years ago to be exact) called Rising Star. I had taken over the writing panel from the talented Allen Wold, the writer of a few of the V novelizations. Other writers on the writer's panel included Mike Allen, Hal Clement and the lovely Casey Byrd (now Casey Shapiro).
On a smoke/drink break in the workshop, a young man came up to me. “Mr. Pomerantz, How can I make my character unique?” The question was good question. I just did not know what to answer or to say at that time. I have pondered this question, having discussed it on many other writer's panels.
This is my stream of thoughts on how to make your characters unique. Many may say other things, but this is my column and this is my answer. If they have an opinion, let them use their own columns! In this column, I am using many book, movie and TV references to make it easier to understand
1) Think of a unique hook in their name...
Robert B Parker's Spenser and TV's Columbo never had a first name. They may have had it, but they were never used in books and/or TV programs. In the TV show MacGyver, we were never told his first name until the seventh and final season of his TV series, but most seem to forget it (It’s Angus). In noted mystery writer Ed McBain's 87th Precinct books, McBain created a Jewish detective with the name Meyer Meyer. For those James Bond fans who could forget such character names like Holly Goodnight, Pussy Galore, Tiffany Case, Octopussy, Dr. No, Goldfinger or Doctor Christmas Jones. A unique name will make the readership/audience take notice. The names of characters like Mike Hammer (a tough, hard boiled private eye), James Bolivar DiGriz, and alias "Slippery Jim" (a space age con man and thief with the nickname The Stainless Steel Rat) and Bret Maverick (a not so Maverick gambler in the old west).
2) Give the characters some sort of a handicap
Insurance Investigator Mike Longstreet was blind. Sherlock Holmes took a 7% percent solution of Cocaine and water to keep him sharp. Nero Wolfe almost never left his three story brownstone because He weighs between 310 and 390, and he limits his physical movements to what he regards to as the irreducible essentials. Jeffery Deaver wrote the Bone Collector which has the quadriplegic detective Lincoln Rhyme. And before Deaver, there was the classic Television show Ironside (Robert T Ironside) who was a wheelchair bound detective. Then there was the Hulk...a modern day retelling of the classic Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde story, where Doctor Bruce Banner is give Gamma rays and becomes the green monster. These handicaps enhanced the story/the TV show or the film because of there different viewpoints you can give the reader or the audience. Giving a handicap put the readership on disabled character side
3) Give your main character a partner or a sidekick
Sherlock Holmes has his Boswell in the guise of John Watson...The Green Hornet has his manservant Kato...Captain James Kirk (Classic Star Trek) has Spock and Doctor McCoy...Lincoln Rhyme has his faithful leg-woman officer Amelia Sachs....The Lone Ranger has Tonto his faithful Indian friend...Batman has had a few Robins over the years (they keep getting killed off)...Marshal Matt Dillon had his deputy Chester...Spenser has his friend and sparring partner Hawk... Nero Wolfe had his leg man and all around assistant Archie Goodwin. The Wild Wild West's James West had Artemis Gordon assisting with his disguises. All of these characters have a partner of some sort to discuss the situation or help them plan how to solve the problem at hand. And once and a while, like in the case of Batman or The Green Hornet, the sidekick can help beat the crap out of the vile villains.
4) Give your Characters a career that will interest people in watching or reading about them
John D MacDonald created a salvage expert and once and awhile detective in Travis McGee who lives on his houseboat The Busted Flush and helps those in need. James West is a Secret Service agent who has a special train on loan from the government in the old west in the 1880's. Nate Ford was an Insurance investigator who turned con man/Mastermind in the TV show Leverage (and if you have not read the Leverage novel, The Zoo Job by Keith DeCandido, you should. It’s a great job). Alexander Mundy (the Television show It Takes a Thief) was a master thief who was caught by the cops and sent to prison...now he works for the SIA, a government agency, as a thief. In Cyborg by Martin Caidin, Astronaut Steve Austin, who crashes and is seriously injured, gets "enhanced" artificial limbs and an eye (can you say BIONIC) and made into a super-spy for the Government...this book was made into a very successful TV Show. You may have heard of it, the Six Million Dollar Man. So do any of these characters careers interest you? They do me!
Next Month I will cover part two...and a few surprises
ON A PERSONAL NOTE
I get a lot of letters and emails. I thank many of you for writing me at email@example.com. It helps me write this column. I have to thank a reader Brenda who suggest this column.
However, one of the topics I get to later is important. People say that with the current economy or their finances, many do not have the money to rent or buy books. I understand that. I really do.
I have a great solution. You may laugh at me. Have you thought of using THE PUBLIC LIBRARY? Yes that old place! You take your kids there so they can do their homework assignments. Have you looked into the library, It is not the library of ten years ago.
Do you know that you can check out books, CDs, Dvds, and MP3s for FREE. The library system in my area allows members to download a book (to an iPad, Kindle or other devises) or an audio (to your MP# or your computer) for 21 days for the price of ZIP...ZERO...FREE. Gawd that is affordable to any budget.
I am not making fun of anyone's fiancés. Just think about it
THE PROMPT OF THE MONTH
Talking about the Six Million Dollar man, if you got seriously injured and get an "enhanced" artificial limb. What would it be bionic and what abilities would this limb have?
Until next time reach for the stars
Columnist: Bennet Pomerantz has covered the Audio medium for the last 20 years. He has syndicated newspaper columns, AUDIOWORLD and "Movies of Your Mind", in Affaire De Coeur Magazine. In which he showcase his vast and diverse knowledge of the spoken word medium.
He is also known as a media review critic (books, music, graphic novels, DVDs, CDs) in his weekly syndicated newspaper column "A Piece of the Page". He also is a ranked media reviewer for Amazon.com. http://www.facebook.com/bennet.pomerantz1 / E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org