While May positions us on the other side of the year from Halloween, it’s not unusual for certain people in my household to be thinking of creating character, aka, designing their Halloween costume. Last year one of ours dressed herself as the titular heroine of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline. In the past, people have left the house in character as Bellatrix Lestrange, Albus Dumbledore, Mrs. Lovett of Sweeney Todd, The Shadow, and Batman (a la, The Dark Knight). Each year the goal is to conjure a likeness that so perfectly assumes personification as to be utterly unambiguous. And also: thrilling. Achieving the goal takes time and effort. Authentic pantaloons and hand-painted button eyes do not simply manifest overnight.
Aristotle may have been referring to drama when he said that the secret to inspiring passion in others is to be moved oneself, but we creative writers can take his words to heart. A memorable character is what—and who—pulls us into the story, gives us perspective, makes us care. Fictional or true-to-life, great characters drive the bus. You might carry an idea of a great character around in your head, or you may know someone you deem worthy of committing to story. Or, maybe the story is running around in your brain and it needs a character—maybe a band of them— to serve as vehicle, take it from your head to the page. Like the pantaloons, bringing character to life takes effort. Choices must be made. Notions selected, patterns constructed.
Superb characters are unique, fashioned from the inimitable fires of your individual creative furnace. Characterization is the craft by which we spark them into breath. What do we mean by craft? Craft is a set of techniques applied to the lightning of your creativity to make the thing. Tools and methods. The famous acting coach Lee Strasberg trained “actors to use their imagination, senses and emotions to conceive of characters with unique and original behavior, creating performances grounded in the human truth of the moment.” At Blank Pages Workshops this May, we’ll focus on accessing memory and imagination to forge unforgettable, truthful characters through prompts, play, and discussion. Join us, May 4, 2019, 6-8 pm, @ The Workhouse.