Friday, November 5, 2010

Developing Characters with Stephen Tremp

I'd like to welcome Stephen Tremp, author of Breakthrough, on his virtual Blog Book Tour. Today is stop number five out of fifteen and he's discussing Developing Characters with Character.

Unless you’re writing a cozy mystery, I think sometimes it’s important to have a plethora of characters for a good story. I remember a new author once received a review from Stephen King. The famous writer of horror and terror wrote what he appreciated most was that there were over 60 characters that gave tremendous depth to the story.

Is Too Much Too Much: Although I do not have close to 60 characters, I took this to heart as I began writing Breakthrough two years ago. I was determined to take the time and commit to developing a rich array of personalities who not only complimented one another, but also caused internal and external conflict. Plus, this pool of individuals gives me more options to kill off figures (eleven murders in my book and many more in Opening and Escalation) without depleting the story of main and supporting characters.

Supporting characters can be almost important to a good story as the protagonist and antagonist. They add dimension and depth to the main character as well as the plot, allowing the author to weave personality traits important to the story line that is difficult to attribute to the main character. Sidekicks intimately know the main character and the author can elaborate by exposition personality traits of the protagonist to the reader. Dr. Watson (Sherlock Holmes), Tonto (The Lone Ranger), Robin (Batman), Festus (Matt Dillon), Mini-Me (Dr. Evil), Donkey (Shrek), and Ed McMahon (Johnny Carson) are all sidekicks who have significantly contributed to the development of the main character.

Sidekicks do all Kinds of Things, from royally screwing things up and getting the main character into danger, to redeeming themselves by saving the protagonist's life or offering that one piece of advice or information that saves the day. They are the yang to the protagonist's ying, but many times in an uncomplimentary manner. Think of Jerry Seinfeld and George Castanza.

Sometimes equal partners can be sidekicks to each other. We see this repeatedly in comedy. They have very differing characteristics that play well off each other. Think of the straight men and the funny guys like Abbot and Costello, George and Gracie, Lucy and Ricky Ricardo, or Laurel and Hardy. These characters have entertained audiences for generations because they both offer something so incredibly different than their partner. But together, the duo is inseparable, and writers can be creative and innovative with the polar opposite personalities and talents.

Do You Base Your Characters on Yourself or Anyone you Know: My protagonist, Chase Manhattan is loosely based on me, only he’s a little bit taller than I am, a little bit better looking, a little faster, stronger, smarter, and much richer. The rest of the good guys (and girls) and bad guys (and girls) are partially made up as well as based on people I’ve known. I sometimes use celebrities as inspiration to develop characters. I have to admit that there is quite a bit of me in the antagonist Nicholas Fischer Jr. But that’s another blog for another day.

Where to Find Inspiration for a Character’s Character? Other People, of Course
Last year we hosted two International Exchange Students from Japan for three days and hosted a student from Wuhan China for a semester. Although we were challenged by the expected language barrier, we had a great time sharing a cultural exchange with each other. We spent time at the beach, ate cheese burgers and pizza, and watched movies.

Ironically, the settings in the next two installments in the BREAKTHROUGH trilogy take place in China and Japan as well as the U.S. By hosting these students I have grown to more fully appreciate the people and cultures of these countries.

I'm now developing a few characters from China and Japan that will help balance the violent events that push the world on the brink of war. I think it’s vital to develop characters culturally different from yourself. All too often I read books where explosive events happen that are to engage and WOW! the reader. Lots of explosions and action, but little regarding how people are affected and the losses and pain they incur caused by the events.

Finally, I don’t want the characters to be perceived as merely the “good guys” or the “bad guys,” where the good guy wins in the end. I want the reader to care about and form an affinity with the characters, to relate to and identify with their trials and tribulations, and share in their successes.
Please join me Monday as I visit Alex Cavanaugh .

You can visit Stephen Tremp, author of the action thriller Breakthrough at Breakthrough Blogs .

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