Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Secrets and lies

Today I'm working on a character bible and some notes for one of my stories. Specifically on the minor characters that my MC will interact with on a daily basis. Because they are minor characters, I'm trying to boil them down into just a few details - short descriptions, what they do for a living, what they like, what their goals are and what they fear. But lastly, I'm including a category that's called "Secrets."

I can't remember where I heard this - or read it - but there's this bit of advice on character creation that is sticking in my brain. I think it was from Joss Whedon, from when I was watching the "Buffy" DVDs and geeking out on the extra bonus material.

The gist is, when creating your characters, you should give them a secret goal, weakness, or secret trouble from the past. That way, if an actor leaves the show and you need to kill them off, or you need a new plot line filled with angst and mayhem, you've got it already built into your characters.

For example, in Season one, Giles wasn't always the upright Watcher that he seemed to be on Buffy. When he was a young man he dabbled in the occult, and was a bit of a bad boy. His past comes back to bite him in the butt when a demon possesses his girlfriend, Jenny Calendar (the computer science teacher). And Miss Calendar had a secret of her own - she was secretly sent to watch Angel, because her clan was responsible for cursing him decades ago.

Just look at any of the characters in Buffy, and you'll see a weakness or secret that Whedon and his writers were able to mine for TV gold. Spike always was a romantic. Buffy's boyfriend Riley wasn't just a college student - he was a secret government agent. Anya could never get over her hatred and distrust of men. Wesley was always fighting the shadow of his father. When Cordelia's family lost all their money she'd rather die than let anyone know it.

I'm sure you could pick out other examples. Perhaps you don't like genre fiction or TV and find these examples broad or corny. But the principal is sound. Especially if your goal is to write a series. Plot arising from character is always a great way to write.

So, back to my character bible. This particular story (an urban fantasy type thing)  is standalone, but I'm layering in details now that won't necessarily be revealed in this book -- juuuuuuust in case this one book turns into three or more. :D

photo: James Marsters as 70s-era Spike, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. 

And here's some Spike and Buffy love, because you know you want to see it. Oh, how I love Spike!


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