What’s your character’s story? It may not be what you expect.
We all have a story. It changes year to year, month to month, and many times in moments we least expect. It’s the story that pops into your head when someone asks, “How are you?” Notice I say into your head, not out of your mouth. “I’m fine,” is not your story.
Honestly, for most of us, our story is what’s not fine with our life.
Someone is bullying my child. I can’t sleep. I can’t pay the bills. My boss is a jerk. My relatives are driving me crazy! Why doesn’t she/he love me?
Our story is that part of our life we long to talk to someone–anyone else about (even if we’re too afraid to). A story we contrast and compare and feel better about after learning someone we know has suffered and survived the same fate. It’s the worry we dwell on when we aren’t keeping our minds busy with something else. It’s the ongoing dialogue that wakes us up in the middle of the night or keeps us from going to sleep in the first place. And so, as a writer, it makes me wonder…
What’s my character’s story?
Yes, I know, your character needs to save the world, solve a murder, whatever… I’m not talking about that story!
Rather, if you were to sit down and have a cup of coffee with one of your characters right now, what would they say to you? What would they complain about? What’s really bugging them?
Speaking as a science fiction and fantasy writer, it’s easy to get caught up in the big picture and neglect the fact that to be real – to be relatable – my characters also need to have smaller, personal lives, with relatable personal worries.
Think about it, Superman, Spider-Man, Wonder Woman… sure they’re out their kicking butt saving the world, but their personal lives are in shambles. I just know if Wonder Woman and I were to sit down for coffee, or a drink, we wouldn’t talk about villains, (well, maybe the hot ones) – No, we’d talk about how it sucks because most men are too intimidated to go out with her. Right? Or the fact that she’s bound to outlive anyone she falls in love with. That would suck. Spider-Man would be complaining about his money problems and Superman – well, I bet pretending he’s a clumsy nerd all day gets really old.
So, here’s your writing assignment (take it or leave it): imagine meeting one of your characters at a café or bar. You sit down, you order drinks (what do they drink?) and then you talk. You share your story. Maybe you’re having a little writers’ block or you’re worried about money, etc… and, of course, they share with you. What do they complain about?
What’s Your Character’s Story?