Likeable Characters

Last night I was reading Neil Gaiman’s latest blog entry in which he replied to a young writer’s question about creating characters. The questioner felt like their characters were too often contrived plot devices, and they wondered how Neil made his characters so personable and interesting.

Neil’s advice was that characters should be, quite simply, people you find interesting. Whether they’re good or bad is irrelevant, they should be people you’d enjoy sitting down with over a cup of coffee and chatting, getting to know, and learning more about. If you enjoy their company and find them interesting, they’ll be better characters and more enjoyable to read about.

I thought I’d give this a try and began writing about a dwarf’s first night at a local tavern. Dwarves are stereotypically boisterous, Irish, and greatly enjoy alcohol, but to be honest, I’d have no interest in sitting down with such a person. Therefore I thought to make the dwarf more interesting, someone who reads poetry and philosophy, and though I have nothing against beer (and really enjoy it myself), I thought it’d be fun to have a dwarf that’s a teatotaller. This one might prefer milk.

I began to write a scene from the dwarf’s point of view where a drunken man accosted him for turning down a drink the man had bought him, and this was OK, but I thought I’d stretch myself further and pick up the scene from the drunkard’s perspective. Make the dwarf a secondary figure so his actions speak for him rather than an internal monologue.

Unfortunately, the human I created to be the antagonist was not someone I found interesting. I was quickly able to come up with a backstory for the guy, an explanation for his temperment, behaviour, etc… but I didn’t like him at all. And as such, I think the scene suffered. It will have to be rewritten if I am to use it further.

Is it possible to have antagonists we like, or at least find interesting? Jaqueline Carey does this masterfully in Kushiel’s Legacy, particularly in the character of Melisande, but I haven’t learned how yet. Does anyone have any advice or experience in regards to interesting antagonists?

Living the dream

Some days, I have daydream conversations between myself and an antagonist where they point out all the stuff I’m doing wrong, or failing to do, or where I’m not doing what other people want. Sometimes these conversations are completely irrational and, at other times, they are inspired by conversations from my past. Regardless, the words in the antagonist’s mouth are always painful and intended to inflict shame, embarrassment, or self-loathing.

But as the summer progresses, I keep thinking, “Man, I’m living the dream!” When last semester ended, I didn’t know what I was going to do next. My internship at the church was ended and I knew that I didn’t want to do that anymore. I don’t really want to work at FnC at all any longer. I want something more, something bigger, and also something more personal. I want a deeper relationship with God than that work afforded me. I want to invest the time in opening myself to his Spirit.

When the semester ended and the summer began, I was walking through a forest. I couldn’t see very far because of the trees, and there were no real paths. There was plenty of room to walk, it was shady and cool, and I liked where I was alright… but I wasn’t yet where I wanted to be. I didn’t yet have a path on which to walk.

Now I have that path. I have a plan. I’m worshiping God more, singing and praying and praising him, and beginning to learn about him and his Spirit. I’m writing more, and my site is picking up steam. I’m happy with its layout, the rate at which I’m producing work, and my future plans. On a creative level, I am satisfied with my current level of activity.

It doesn’t matter what those voices say, those antagonistic dreams with their unrelenting expectations. I’m living the dream. I’m doing the work I need to do. I’m climbing to the mountaintop, and no one can take that away from me.