I asked MATT PELFREY, a Los Angeles-area writer, for his tips on CREATING CHARACTERS. Here's what he had to say:
He was a troubled young man. His father died, recently. His mother was set to marry his uncle. A ghost, perhaps that of his father, perhaps a demon trying to lead him astray, has told him his father was murdered by his uncle. Surrounded by enemies, unsure what to do: This boy has some serious problems.
Of course, I’ve just described Hamlet.
What distinctive traits are missing from his character in the description above? His childhood dreams? His relationship with his cat? His favorite color?
The DNA of a character is locked in the character's problems. By creating a set of problems (not all of them necessarily part of your main plot) you can create a complex character:
1. His dog has been kidnapped.
2. His brother is in jail.
3. His father has Alzheimers.
4. Someone is leaving threatening messages on his voice mail.
5. He's just found out his boss is having an affair with his chief rival at work.
Now, let's give him a name: Wayne Richards. And a job: Forest Ranger.
Wayne Richards, a forest ranger working in Northern California, has problems. His dog has been kidnapped. His brother is in jail. His father has Alzheimer's. And if that's not bad enough, someone is leaving threatening messages on his voice mail and his boss is having an affair with his chief rival at work.
Now, just that little sketch starts to tell you things about who Wayne is. At the very least, it gives you material to start spinning off with. For all we know, none of the above character problems will even be connected to the main plot of whatever story Wayne finds himself in.
Problems insinuate depth and a life in progress.
Problems are a great tool to build the basics of a character.
Matt Pelfrey is the author of seven published and produced plays. His work has been seen across the US at such theaters as the Actors Theatre of Louisville, 59E59 and Furious Theatre, where he is the playwright-in-residence. He currently teaches undergraduate playwriting at UCLA. Visit his website at www.bluntforcedrama.org.