But Before the Story—the Back-story – Guest Post by Simon Lang

It’s interesting to find your own protagonist having strange adventures in a fanzine.

It means that these fans have found the person you created so real that they want to be part of his life, want to put him through his paces in a variety of situations, and in a sense, want to be part of his existence. Leaving out the fact that it’s patently “Theft of Intellectual Property” if it’s sold (a point that tends to make lawyers salivate), and that using someone else’s character is unprofessional and invasive, it somehow constitutes a sort of a sideways compliment.

It means someone really liked your stuff. That they read it and became engaged with it to the extent that they felt the need to add to the adventure. That they loved that character, or admired him, or cared about him as if the character were a real person.
That’s the key. Creating real characters is the name of the game.

The secret—a very public secret, actually—to good fiction is writing great characters. When you consider that Sherlock Holmes, Indiana Jones, Captain Kirk, Nancy Drew, Harry Potter, James Bond, The Cat in the Hat, Elizabeth Bennett, Ebenezer Scrooge, Darth Vader and Dao Marik, existed only in the minds of their creators before one word was ever put on paper, it’s easy to see that crafting real characters is vital indeed.

No matter how good the storyline; no matter with what finesse we construct the locale and setting; if your characters are wooden, they all speak exactly alike, and they’re painfully boring, your work is never going to go anywhere. It’ll just sit moldering away in your trunk, without even consoling you with a parting squeak.

When you’re having problems with your story, go back and research your characters.

Do detailed back-stories on each main character. Where did he go to school, and how well did he do? Who were her childhood friends and what became of them? What is his favorite sport, if any, and which ice cream flavor does she prefer? What kind of a pet does he have, and why? What happened in her childhood that marked her for life, good or bad, and how does he make his living? Have you researched his profession? How far will you go to “know” this person you’re creating, and… and… and, et cetera. Keep asking yourself “why?” It’s one of the most important words in the language.

Perfect your character.

A character, to use the old hackneyed comparison, is like an iceberg. You, the writer, must know the whole thing in detail, even though your reader will only see the top ten-percent. The hidden ninety-percent is what gives your character depth, helps to make him real and three-dimensional. And it provides you a vast store of resources to which you will be able refer regarding your character, time and again, whenever you may need them. Try this and see whether it doesn’t give you a way to write through your blocks and craft more real and compelling stories.

Darlene Hartman/”Simon Lang” is an award-winning screenwriter and novelist, and has written PSAs for such clients as The US State Department, The American Heart Association and the Cardinal Cooke Council on Pro-Life. She teaches an online program based on her writers’ course, “Think Like a Writer.” She can be reached at simon_lang@rocketmail.com.