What is a character?

Posted: July 8, 2011 in Writing
Tags: ,

This is a question that I believe most people believe they know the answer to. I also believe that fewer people know what it takes to truly create one. Now remember, I say all this as a relatively new author (five years of dedicating to writing at this point).

I spent some time doing a few things so far this week. One of them is keeping on task with my challenge (A Round of Words in 80 Days). That is going swimmingly. I am almost a day ahead of pace, which I am sure will get eaten up once the summer is over. Another thing that I have done is spend time with my boy. He is a great kid, and a true inspiration to me, as he always tries his hardest at everything, even when it is hard for him. The final thing is that I have been doing a fair amount of reading.

I just finished the first book in a science fiction trilogy by Dan Abnett called Xenos. It is the story of a man who is an Inquisitor, and how he goes from operating one way early in his career to employing the very entities that he is trying to fight at  the end of the series (at least that is what the back cover copy says :).  Anyway, here is my point. The inquisitor’s name is Eisenhorn, and as a character he is about as real as it gets. There is a depth to this character that makes me want to come up for air.

So, this got me to thinking. What is it that Dan Abnett does that makes Eisenhorn so rich? Then I hit on it. Conflict. That is the ultimate answer (I know, there are no ultimate answers in writing, but keep reading and you may change your mind. You will at least see why I say what I say). Eisenhorn is a real, tangible, deep, and meaningful character because of the conflict that he faces on just about every single page of the book(s). There is never a moment where he is just sitting around daydreaming and smelling flowers.

Don’t get me wrong here. There isn’t just intense gun fight action all the time. That would not help in characterization all that much except to say the character likes to shoot alot. There are many quieter moments, but even these moments have Eisenhorn wondering, thinking, worrying. Who can be trusted? Why did the cult act the way they did?Why was one member abandoned without warning? Why were his own people interfering with what he was trying to achieve? Why is that guy shooting at him? Okay, so there is a fair amount of gunplay, but in this future there is pretty much only war, so there is no surprise at that.

This conflict that Eisenhorn goes through shows a lot about him. It shows how he goes about solving a problem. In seeing how he aids members of his part, we see his caring side. He often, in a gunfight, tries to see if there is a way to get a prisoner. After all, how else is he going to get the information he needs. He isn’t bloodthirsty at all. Throughout the book I get to see how he stacks up against the bad guys and his fellow good guys.

All of these morsels of characterization would not be possible without conflict. Think about it. How many of your character flaws and strengths show when you are sitting on your couch, eating cold pizza and watching ‘Glee’ (You all know you do it, don’t lie). Not many at all. When in a truly relaxed state we don’t need to show our character traits. It is conflict that makes us, and it is conflict that will make our characters as well.

Well, I am going to go off to bed before I create a conflict with my wife. The couch isn’t all that comfortable.

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