Why is Justified, the TV show, justified in fiction writing?
Your characters are what your story is all about, right? Without a character there can be no story. So why do some writers spend lots and lots of time developing their characters, while others do not? The simple answer is– they should.
Whether it be books, TV, or movies, the characters that leave an impression on us are the ones who make us think, feel, laugh, cry, etc… The key to good character building is to give your reader a visceral response.
How do we do that?
By giving your characters certain traits.
Your main character– protagonist– must have a flaw. And he/she must overcome this flaw in the epiphany in order for the reader to experience catharsis.
Humans are fallible. We have strengths and weaknesses– and so should your characters. The best way to create a character, in my opinion, is to first think about their flaw. Are they pig-headed? Insecure? Believe they can do no wrong? Or is it more subtle than that?
Sometimes it helps to use something that contradicts your character’s lifestyle…
- A homeless man with a genius IQ.
- A rocket scientist who has no common sense.
- A popular high school girl who secretly wishes she was a boy.
Back to why I entitled this post, Why is JUSTIFIED justified in fiction writing.
If you’ve ever watched the TV show, Justified– based on Elmore Leonard’s novella, Fire In The Hole-- Boyd Crowder must come to mind when you think of memorable characters. He’s a backwoods hillbilly who speaks like… Well, he’s Boyd…
See for yourself.
Here are some memorable Boyd quotes that I found on Greg Gutfeld’s “The Conversation” on Breitbart…
Boyd: Well, well, well– I hesitate to ask what brings us the pleasure of this divine coincidence that we find ourselves crossing paths this fine spring morning.
Translation: What are you doing here?
Boyd: I fear, my brother, I am in a quandary as to your inner thoughts and the impact of said ruminations on your future actions in this here hollow.
Translation: What’s up?
Boyd: I fear that within my belly stirs the emanations of desire for a product that sates the ache within.
Translation: I’m hungry.
And this one takes the cake (or the cheeseburger, as it were)…
Boyd: Well, my darlin’, being a lowly carnivore like yourself, I shall choose from this glorious list of animal flesh– the edible prize that men have hunted and killed for centuries, incidentally– a rounded flesh of cow, slipped within a doughy mattress, saddled with cheddar.
That’s how he ordered a cheeseburger!
But Boyd can get away with it! Why? Because Elmore Leonard was a genius when it came to creating characters. He gave Boyd a flair for speech. And personally, Boyd’s my favorite character because of it.
You can look at many blogs to give you the nitty-gritty of character development– some give great advice, some not so much. Personally, I find it easier to “write what you know.” What I do is take different points in my life. My teenage version, which Shawny is based on, my I-thought-I-knew-everything preteen years, my adult version– when I first became an adult– and finally, my now version, the person I am today.
I take a little piece of one of those MEs and base my protagonist on the most obvious flaw at the time. Let’s use my teenage version, aka Shawny Daniels, she’s tough, fowl-mouthed and street-smart (Yes, I was a bit out-of-control). But there is also a loving soul buried deep within her, behind an impenetrable wall she built around her heart for protection. Once she loves– and that’s a whole other issue for her, letting people close enough– she’ll move heaven and earth to protect that person, even if it puts her in a dire situation. Her flaw is obvious– she won’t allow anyone into her heart, at least not easily.
Your antagonist’s flaw should mirror your protagonist’s flaw.
His/her flaw should be their undoing in the climax.
Let’s take someone like Shawny for your protagonist and a killer who loves one woman too deeply for your antagonist. And let’s say that person he loves double crosses him. It’s his undying trust and devotion, and his stupidity in thinking that she felt the same– his flaw– that should lead to his capture or death. Mirror opposite of your protagonist, right? That’s a cohesive story.
By the way, I did not use this particular flaw for my antagonist in TIMBER POINT. I can’t tell you what the flaw is because it will ruin the story. I’m only using Shawny’s flaw as an example. You’ll need to buy the book when it comes out to see what I actually used. :) But I promise you it IS a mirror opposite.
From the words of Boyd Crowder, I’ll leave you with this…
Boyd: Be that as it may, I sense within me a growing, nagging torpor that seeks a temporary hibernation in a solitary area for comfort and slumber.
Translation: I’m going to bed.
Where do you get your character traits from? People you know? Do you use different versions of yourself? Or do you make them up? I’d love to hear how others build character traits.