I am co-moderating a writers’ chat loop on craft and skills and we’ve been engaged in an interesting discussion of creating characters. I’d like to share some of that with you.
While discussing female protagonist portrayals – in other words Heroines – the name Sandra Bullock came up. She was mentioned as a heroine who is pretty much universally liked.
On this loop our focus is commercial – or some call it popular – fiction where protagonist likability is extremely relevant. For your story to be commercially viable – especially genre viable – it behooves you to create a likable main character.
There are exceptions in the annals of popular fiction titles. I can hear you listing them now. But they are exceptions after all. When seeking to be published or better published it is advisable to stick with the rule rather than the exception.
The goal is to concoct a likable main character. In this case a likable heroine. What could be more helpful than a concrete model you can readily tap into for that quest?
You could use yourself as that model but there be monsters. Our knowledge of ourselves is fractured by stuff like self esteem or lack of such. We have enough difficulty inhabiting us in real life. Why try to do so in fiction?
You could use friends and family but that is problematic also. Our knowledge of those around us is distorted by the cracked prism of relationship. Conflicts and confusion and consternation too often intervene.
What we need is a clear view of the character of the person that still allows for affection and is not dependent on the whims of interpersonal or intrapersonal involvement.
Who can fill this role for us better than folks from film? We watch them. We become engrossed in their stories – sometimes deeply so. We even have opinions of like or dislike about them – sometimes strongly so.
This makes actors a rich source of character material for our fiction. And for our popular fiction main characters we want actors we find personally very likable. Hence Sandra Bullock.
In most of her roles Sandra plays the quintessential girl/woman we cannot help but love. She is quirky. She is imperfect but admirable anyway. She is cute rather than unapproachably glamorous. She is a role model who does not overwhelm us – or our readers.
For other roles we might choose Angelina Jolie or Julianne Moore or whoever. The key is that we know this character. We have inhabited her story on intimate terms. We have a relationship with her. This being a film relationship is a plus. We know her up close but not too personal.
As you create your character and put her into action in your story ask yourself WWSD – What Would Sandra Do in this scene? Feel free to substitute your own likable actor name in that query.
Now how about creating your male protagonist hero? I am leaning toward WWDD. What Would Daniel – Day Lewis – Do? Not as Lincoln but as Hawkeye in Last of the Mohicans. I’m going for sexy manly after all. And Abe just does not strike me personally in that way if you know what I mean.