• Zack Carden

The Key to Characters

Characters make the story. Without non-stereotypical characters who create conflict you won't have much of a page-turner. You'll end with a Kabuki curtain call.

First, I chose my female protagonist. The storyline was that she chose the day, December 24th to go live at a hospice facility on Long Island. She had a reason, too. And, yes, I chose New York City at Bob's suggestion. And he was correct: stuff happens there!

But that isn't enough. I can imagine that older women and men go to hospice facilities in New York City every single day. So this idea required something else. What if I made her rich—very rich. But there again, that alone didn't make the "character" cut. She had a strange name. No Jane Doe, this one. See, she had a past too. A family secret so vile, if it ever reached the level of the board of the 400 club—that exclusive group of wealthy families, who for the most part were respected across the board, and who were influential contributors of society, she and her family would be ruined. She guarded that secret with her life.

Her antagonist then became a consideration. She had already made plans to go to a hospice facility on the oddest of days, so the idea of an eccentric cabbie might work. But her cabbie wasn't quiet, as she had hoped. He was an opinionated, second-generation Ukrainian who showed up at the Carlyle, her expensive residence on the Upper East Side. He had thinning wavy hair, a scruffy goatee, and a threadbare jacket. He also had PTSD and missing fingers from a war wound suffered in Vietnam. He didn't take any guff from anyone, especially and old and sickly woman. He blew his horn when his fare didn't appear as promptly as he though she should. He literally threw her bags in the trunk and got a quick retort from his passenger. She was rich—but she couldn't buy more time. The cabbie, by comparison was quite poor and struggling to pay for his mom's and his cat's insulin. But he had time. He was working to put enough money back so his daughter could go to college and on to graduate school, but when he ran over a show dog it took away his cush. Toss a devoted domestic in the mix; and a waitress who knew the cabbie's explosive behavior—his PTSD; and a barkeep with great skills of observation and you have the makings of a great story. Bob's advice on learning your characters: take your major characters through a twenty-four hour day: where they live, what they eat, how they dress, and how they look, and what they believe. You'll discover things about your character even you didn't know. And one more thing: get a notebook and thumb through magazines to find people who represent the main characters in your mind. That one is from my viewpoint, but Bob liked the idea. Believe me, it helps the process. One of the greatest compliments came when one of my assistants said, "Doc. You act like your characters are real people." I answered, "They are to me …."

And that's the key.

Next time, I will tell you the character's names from my upcoming novel A Memorable Thing and how they came to be called thus. Subscribe to stay connect to this blog and my upcoming projects.

#Writing #WritingTips #Characters

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Chattanooga, TN

©2017 by Zack Carden.