Monday, April 18, 2011

Dissection of a Great Character 101: A Lab Manual. Oh...and also OS Teaser #11

I totally understand that if I post one more time about this book à
people are going to start thinking this is Gayle Forman’s blog instead of mine. But, even though I have not let myself pick this book up for over a week, I still can’t get my head out of it. I think Gayle Forman has broken me.

The reason this story has gripped me and won’t let me go boils down to the characters. I’ve read so many really fabulous books with truly fabulous characters, but Adam has stuck with me like no other. Yesterday, I sat down to dissect what makes Adam great in the hope that it would be somewhat cathartic and I would be able to resume my life. It almost worked.

So, today, I want to take what I learned in my dissection of Adam and relay it in general terms that can help us all write extraordinary characters.

Dissection of a Great Character 101: A Lab Manual

The Skin: On inspection of the surface of a Great Character, notice the following:
1. Personality
On the surface, we should see the Great Character’s distinct personality. Run-of-the-mill doesn’t cut it. Some people may argue with me, but a Great Character doesn’t need to be super likable. However, if they’re not, they need some sort of redeeming characteristics so the reader is still pulling for them. There should be something in the personality that draws readers to the Great Character.
2. Relationships
Next, notice the Great Character’s relationships. They need to matter not only to him, but to the reader. These relationships should be multi-layered and not stereotypical. Some should be strained, others new, others still, maybe love/hate. These relationships may not all be healthy. Some (especially the new ones) may even be dangerous or threaten the character achieving his ultimate goal. Also notice how these relationships came about. Did the Great Character seek them out, or were they pursued? It’s the way a character interacts with others that show us all the facets of his personality and make him real to the reader.
3. External Challenges
What in the outside world is keeping the Great Character from getting what he wants/needs. This may be one big thing, or several little things—maybe of his own doing. Either way, it should be more than an obstacle of convenience.

As we cut through the skin, we see layers beneath. Pull back the skin to reveal:
4. History
Here, notice the significant events that have happened in the Great Character’s life, and how he reacted to them. These are the things that shaped him into who his is today.
5. Desires/Needs
Look for the things the Great Character needs in order to be happy/survive. What is missing and why?
6. Imperfections/Vulnerabilities
Notice the Great Character’s flaws. There should be things here that make the reader cringe. Some of what we find here may be unforgivable.
7. Inner dialogue
These are the things that the Great Character will only reveal to himself, and usually stem from his imperfections and vulnerabilities colliding with his desires and needs. The fact that he admits these things only to himself shows one more layer of vulnerability.
8. Internal Challenges
Within our Great Character, notice what it is that keeps him from going after his desires/needs. This needs to feel authentic and can’t be based on a simple misunderstanding.

And, when you probe into deeper layers of a Great Character, you find:
9. Inner conflict
Notice how the desires/needs and the internal challenges manifest into conflict within the Great Character. What is the character still struggling with and what are the obstacles keeping him from overcoming this struggle? How does what he wants fly in the face of what he believes is best or right.
10. Raw emotion
In the deepest layers, notice the things our Great Character keeps locked away. This, often, is the emotional response to the coming together of everything listed above. It may not be rational, and it may be infuriating to the reader, but it needs to be authentic to the character based on everything the reader knows about him.

So, there you have it. Hope the dissection wasn’t too gory for you! That list was off the top of my head as I was mourning Adam, and I’m sure there are things I forgot. What do you think makes a great character?

And, now for today’s Original Sin Teaser!

Friday, we shifted gears from Luc and Frannie hotness as Gabe showed up. Here is another snippet from Frannie’s POV:

#OriginalSin p23 Frannie: Gabe relaxes back into the wall and tucks his hands into the pocket of his jeans. “Some things are worth losing your wings for.” His smile is gone and his blue eyes pierce mine.


  1. Ha, I totally understand writing multiple WHERE SHE WENT/Gayle Forman posts. Mia and Adam are still in my head, and it's been months since I read either book!

  2. Awesome post, Lisa! I am totally bookmarking this. And ahhh I LOVE the teaser. WOW.

  3. This is awesome! Thanks for all the awesome posts about writing! They really help me! :)

  4. I'm buying it this week. Can't wait to read it!
    And thanks for the great breakdown. Awesome things to think about.

  5. Great analysis. I'm a strong proponent for establishing a character's psychology before anything else. If you're creating characters they're still characters (or actors as I said in my recent post) but if you create the right persona, the right psychology, you're no longer introducing a character. You're introducing the reader to an individual, a person.