Note: I’m exploring this question as part of a new writing series I’m calling “Deep Character Study.”
Here’s the thing: while we all function as human beings, we aren’t always consciously aware of it. Most of the time, we just react.
To write good characters means understanding at least a little psychology and emotion; to create really intense, multi-layered characters, you need to be able to recognize the patterns humans follow.
Welcome to the series on Deep Character Study.
WHO DID YOU LOOK UP TO WHEN YOU WERE YOUNG?
This is a question filled with landmines.
For some people, the answer is an easy given: their dad or big brother, mom or sister, aunt, teacher, grandparent. For the rest of us, there’s no simple answer, and no exploring this question without pain.
Here’s why you need to explore this question for your character:
- Your characters didn’t appear out of nowhere. Just like in your own life, someone influenced your characters—for good or ill.
- Can’t think of an influence? That’s important. The absence of helpful older role models can shape a character just as much as their presence (affecting self-reliance, identity, trust issues, etc.).
- Your character’s habitual methods of dealing with conflict and stress are largely due to the way those in authority handled them during your character’s childhood. Did the adults freak out? Remain too stoic as if they didn’t care? Keep the kid out of all knowledge, or dump too much information on them all the time?
HOW TO FIGURE OUT WHO RAISED YOUR HERO: QUESTION SET
- How did your character learn to feed himself? How did your character learn to bathe? From whom did your character learn to dress?
- What does your character value more than money (food, weapons, shelter, freedom to travel, etc.) and who demonstrated that importance in childhood?
- Who did your character want to be like when they grew up?
- Who did your character NOT want to be like when they grew up?
- Now that your character is grown (if they are), do they feel like they’ve met that goal of like/unlike?
- How did the success or failure of that goal affect them?
- Does your character subconsciously behave like an adult from their past?
- When your character encounters other adults, which adults from their past are they reminded of?
- How does your character view authority, and how does this stem from youthful experiences?
Role models can come from anywhere, even books and TV. Your job as the writer is to figure out how your character was affected—how she lives, and the way she views herself.
Your readers don’t necessarily need to know these tidbits, but you do. Understanding why your characters respond the way they do is crucial to character development, and knowing who influenced them is a key part of that.
I’d love to see your answers in an email or in the comments below. Who raised your characters?