Friday, May 3, 2013

C is for... character

By now you know I'm blogging the storytelling alphabet.
A is for about.
B is for beginnings.
So now we're up to C. C is for character.

Performing storytellers have some interesting advantages and challenges when presenting characters. There are an endless number of character tips I could give you, but I'm going to limit myself to a few that I use every day, in every practice, in every writing session, in every performance.

Like writers, we need to know our characters inside and out, far beyond what we present to our audience. What motivates them? What do they care about? What are their flaws, virtues, hidden vices and secret dreams? Why are they doing what they're doing? You can find many online resources for character questions. This is a good one.

If we know the answers to these questions and more, then we have more flexibility in how we portray our characters. It doesn't really matter if your character is fiction, traditional or real, the better you know them, the more believable they will be. Your portrayal will have depth. Even if you are telling a true story, it helps if you imagine some of these answers. Just make them consistent with what you know about the characters in your story. What might President Lincoln have enjoyed for breakfast (did he eat that the morning before going to Ford's Theater)? Did Eleanor Roosevelt have allergies (this might be relevant if your story is set in the spring of 1944)? Even if you can't ask her, decide what made your great-grandmother laugh. Everyone, whether living or dead, real or fictional, is composed of the details of their lives. Maybe Coyote's fur itches. Don't tell us, but you certainly can show us.

Make sure you do your research. If your character is a fireman, spend some time learning about the trade. What's more, as a performing storyteller, learn something about how firemen hold themselves, how they move, the look in their eyes when they talk about a particularly tough spot. Writers need to do all of this research; as storytellers we can use our bodies and voices to convey additional detail to our audiences. That detail should be authentic, so do your homework.

When you portray a character before an audience, be consistent. If you develop a particular voice or physical characteristic, do it each and every time we meet that character. The audience will come to depend on those cues to know who they are seeing and listening to. If you can't be consistent, then don't do it.

Lastly, fall in love with your characters, even the villains. If you love them, you will know them better, portray them with more authenticity and enjoy spending time with them. Your love for the character gives your audience permission to feel for them too, whether love or disgust. Your passion will be expressed in your words and gestures, your characters will come to life.

(c)2013 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

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True Stories, Honest Lies by Laura S. Packer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
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