Guest Post - Developing Characters According to Real Life By Lane Heymont
Developing Characters According to Real Life
By Lane Heymont
Outside of the dreaded synopsis, character development is a crushing blow authors must learn how to tackle. There’s no right or wrong way to do so. In screenwriting we connect with characters through actions, dialogue and the subtlety of thoughts. However, in prose we are able to peer into the actual thoughts of our characters, see their thoughts if you will.
How do we create characters that are both believable and compelling? Often, I hear people say they attribute an equal amount of strengths and flaws to a character. One strength for every flaw. It works, but not for me. People aren’t so simple in real life. We are more than our strengths and flaws. In general, we don’t make sense. Whatsoever. We’re instinctual animals who have lost the ability, or will, to rely on those natural predispositions.
Carl Jung, famed 19th and 20th century Swiss psychotherapist, said that we become whole by integrating opposites, including our unconscious and conscious, then our behaviors no doubt clash.
I develop characters based on real world psychological theories. In my novel The Freedman and the Pharaoh’s Staff, a time travel adventure set in post Civil War Louisiana, a Ku Klux Klansman by the name of Narce is an unbelievably brutal, violent, and narcissistic ogre. Not an actual ogre, but he might as well be one. For me, he has no redeeming qualities as a human being. However, I wrote him in that his companion—best friend—is a dog. Best friend as in the way they’d call each other up to dish about last night’s date. Not literally, of course, but you get the idea.
This certainly doesn’t seem to make sense, a man consumed by savage violence in the end tries to shield said animal from said violence. It’s Jung’s theory of oppositions. Narce survives the outside world by relying on violence. People here being the outside world, while at home, his dog, he’s at peace.
Perhaps, because those of us who write fiction always hear characters need to make sense, we assign our creations a definitive set of traits, which cause set reactions to all stimuli thrown their way. I suggest try writing your characters in a way that their personalities or desires directly contrast their actions.
If the example of Narce from The Freedman and the Pharaoh’s Staff doesn’t tempt you enough to try it, then consider Michael Scott from The Office. All Michael wants to do is find love, someone to fill that void in his life, yet all he does is drive women away. Consistently. Any way Michael can, he does. Until he meets a woman he truly loves, a woman who he really wants to be with. Then things go smoothly, for the most part, but I digress.
I’ll leave you with a Carl Jung quote: “In all chaos there is a cosmos, in all disorder a secret order.”
Jeb, a former slave, rescues his brother-in-law Crispus from the Ku Klux Klan, pulling him into a world of Creole Voodoo, hatred, time travel, and redemption. The two brothers-in-law set out to stop Verdiss and his Klan followers from using the Pharaoh's Staff, a magical artifact from ancient Egypt. Soon, Jeb and Crispus learn Verdiss’ diabolical plan and discover that he is working for an even more evil force. In the end Jeb and Crispus must stop the eradication of an entire people and each must find redemption for his own past sins