Get Cracking #7: Rounding Out Your Characters

It’s been a while since we’ve posted an exercise. Our members have been busy writing a variety of projects and many have been submitting and getting published. But in this time of fear and social distancing, we want to post something to help our people, and any one else out there, turn their attention to something productive to get their minds off the fear and worry that is plaguing many of us.

We picked a relatively straightforward exercise that can help reconnect you with a project after a time away, break through writers’ block on a stubborn piece, or perhaps just help you get started on something new.

The Exercise

It’s easy when we get caught up in making our protagonist and antagonist, as well as other characters, to focus on just a few aspects of them. We especially want our good guys to be likable and our bad guys to be hated.

But fiction works best when it feels real. And in the real world, people generally fall into the grey areas.

Every person you’ll ever meet in your life is the hero of their own story. In fiction, every character, no matter if we perceive them to be good or bad, is the hero of their own story.

The antagonist set off a nuclear bomb that destroyed Berlin. So? If you look at his reasons, you’re going to find he was fulfilling his own heroic arc. He probably isn’t pure evil. There may even be noble, if misguided, intentions behind what he’s doing.

But, in the real world also, most people are their own worst enemies.

Likewise, protagonists don’t have to be pure good. When they are, they end up one dimensional and boring. Look at Superman? Which character do most people love more from the Star Wars series: Luke Skywalker or Han Solo? Do I even need to answer?

For this assignment, choose the protagonist and antagonist of a work in progress and consider the other sides of their characters.

For your protagonist or hero, what annoys the heck out of his or her loved ones? What is he so ashamed of that he tries to hide from others? What is his weakness? And, most importantly, what internal-conflict/negative-attitude does he have which, if not resolved, will prevent him from ever reaching his goals?

As for your antagonist or the bad guy, what strengths or admirable traits does he have? What makes others overlook or forgive his negatives? What would her best friend or spouse love her for? What would have made him an admirable character if he’d gone another way in life? And what are his noble/heroic reasons for doing what he’s doing?

Make sure you consider all of these things. Write a description explaining the origin or drive for these tendencies.

For example, if your villain secretly gives toys to children at Christmas, perhaps it is because he grew up poor and never had new toys Christmas morning. Or maybe your hero has a bad temper and breaks things when she loses control. She’s human and never learned to control it.

But what impacts will these tendencies have on your story? Are they essential to the character arc, just a little spice along the way, or maybe the secret that drives him to make different choices.

And, for bonus points, pick a minor walk-on character in your story and work out their heroic journey. If it plugs right into your plot and theme you might have just found yourself a hidden gun for later use.

Joining in the Exercise

This isn’t a contest and we definitely don’t require that you post a finished piece publicly. Our goal is to encourage you to write. This exercise is primarily back story anyway and won’t really be that exciting to other people outside of the exercise.

To get the best results and discuss the task and your work with other writers, we recommend joining our Discord server and participating in #inkubator. The room is always there, so you can come in at your own schedule and pace. We’ll also be having more discussion and possibly some small in-between challenges and assignments that don’t make it to our blog. You can post your writings in response to the exercises in #ink-review to ask for help looking it over. This is a private closed system, so sharing work with the group doesn’t cost you your first publication rights.

We operate as a peer review system, so we do expect everyone to give feedback on at least two other pieces posted by other writers for every exercise you participate in. The reason for this is that learning to edit is an essential part of writing and it helps keep the peer review channel hopping. It is often easier to learn to find the weaknesses in our own writing after we’ve seen the impacts they have in the writing of others. By giving feedback to others, you are building your own writing skills.

Anyone can join any of the exercises at any time and skip those you want to skip. We’re happy to work with you even if the majority of the group has moved on to a different exercise. You’re also welcome to work at your own pace. We will be offering recommended deadlines within our server group for those who work best with a deadline. But we aren’t going to kick anyone out or think less of them for being behind–let us know, however, if you need that extra shove to stick to a deadline. Everyone has their own path to follow, but we like to work together to support each other as we progress.

You’re also welcome to work on our exercises on your own or share them with your own writing group without joining our Discord server but again, you’re also welcome to drop in and say hi to us too. The more the merrier.

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