Discovering a Personality

As you may have noticed, I’m not much of a blogger. However, I’ve begun writing a new book – mainly as a distraction from losing two WIPs and trying to reconstruct them (long story I don’t want to go into).

For a while, I’ve been toying with the concept of recasting one of the Greek myths as a comedy. One problem I’ve been having, is trying to frame the core personality of the main character. Most of the secondary characters haven’t been a problem, but the MC – stuck. Usually, my stories start with some conceptualization of a set of characters interacting in a scene. Then I continue to flesh the scene out until I feel I have a strong sense of the personalities. Next step is to find them a high-level plot and setting that suits them (I usually have a few of those knocking around in my head). That’s just how it works for me.

But in this case, I’m working from established material. Figuring out the correct set of personality attributes that will fit the MC and make the story compelling (and/or humorous) can be difficult. So, I resorted to a technique I created a long while back. I take the problematic character, or characters if needed, out of the story and plunk them down into a basic setting which is almost all dialog. Example settings are: buying something in a shop, on a date at a restaurant, in a job interview, explaining a work of art to a friend, etc. I then ‘pants’ the conversation as freely as I can, ignoring spelling, grammar, etc.

It usually takes me only a page before I’m able to stop and speculate on personality attributes. If not, I’ll continue the conversation or, if the thread peters out, start a new scenario. The idea is to listen to your character and look for personality flags.

So here’s my real-life example from what I’m working on right now. Let’s just label my MC as P. I’m trying to figure out P as a child for now. Later I may, or may not, need to do the exercise again with him as an adult. At this point, I start with a basic unfinished statement:

P, as a child, is…

Then I launch the script. In this case, I chose “buying something”. Here’s what I typed freely, warts and all (C is the store clerk):

P: How much is this action figure from Giant Robot Battle?
C: 18.99
P: That’s a lot.
C: That’s the price.
P: I mean, it’s not even the main character.
C: They’re all 18.99. Doesn’t matter which.
P: Did you see the movie?
C: Nope. You gonna buy that or not?
P: I’m thinking it over. Let me ask you. Who do you think would win in a fight? This guy, Mechoman, or Godzilla?
C: Godzilla. So, make up your mind yet?
P: I’m trying to. Why Godzilla?
C: Because he’s Godzilla and I don’t know the other guy. 18.99.
P: It’s a big investment.
C: It’s not an investment, it’s a toy.
P: Well for me it is. I mean, I can buy other things that might keep me interested longer. Do you think they’ll make a sequel?
C: To Godzilla?
P: No. To Giant Robot Battle.
C: I wouldn’t know. Here. Kid. Let me help you with this. Do any of your friends have one of these?
P: Nnnnooo.
C: What would they think if they saw you with this? Would they think you were cool?
P: I dunno. It’s a new movie. I hafta wait until they see it.
C: Then you’re ahead of the curve. You can be the trendsetter.

That’s all I needed. I’ve done this before, so I was picking stuff up in the back of my mind regarding his mindset. I then wrote:

Analysis: thoughtful, difficult, prone to over-analyzing, and self-conscious.

Put them together and you have:

P as a child is thoughtful, difficult, prone to over-analyzing, and self-conscious.

Now I have something to work with. I might change or add traits, but I have a foundation. In fact, I may opt to make self-conscious a trait which he will need to come to terms with and/or leverage it for comedy. That’s all part of the fun of writing. Will I continue this WIP? I have no idea. It’s still a fresh thought and I need to see how far it will take me.

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