Tag Archives: J.K. Rowling

Getting into Your Character’s Psyche: Key to Crafting Imperfect, Unforgettable Characters

Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy in BBCs  production of “Pride and Prejudice.”

Flawed characters, from Jane Austen’s pompous Mr. Darcy to J.K. Rowling’s geeky wizard Harry Potter, can make or break a novel.

Why? Imperfect characters give stories a realism and emotional depth that invites us in and makes us care about the characters because we can see some of ourselves or someone we know in the person’s struggles. Capturing characters realistically differentiates an average book from an unforgettable one. 

 

Nothing will dull the reading public faster than stories about two-dimensional, cookie-cutter characters. We hunger for fully-fleshed out figures whose inner turmoil and back story drive their view of the world and how they respond to the external pressures and situations the story plot throws at them.
In his blog post, “Five Writing Tips from Reading J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter,” San Francisco-based author Nathan Bransford observes that the beloved characters created by J.K. Rowling are far from perfect, as evident by Harry’s self-pitying behavior in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, book five in the Harry Potter series.  

“He is not perfect. He’s growing up. He’s going through a really dark time. And the fact that he’s feeling sorry for himself before moving on and embracing what he has to do is part of what makes the second half of the series so powerful,” Bransford writes.

 

In my own book research – a turn-of-the-century historical fiction novel set at the time of the Great Flood in Dayton, Ohio, I am grappling with how to realistically portray both my fictional characters and the larger-than-life figures who lived during that time and played prominent roles in the epic flood and its aftermath.

 

Arthur Morgan
Earlier this week while interviewing the grandson of Arthur Morgan, the innovative “human” engineer who conceived of  Dayton’s lasting flood control system, which included creating the Miami Valley Conservancy District, I feel an incredible obligation to accurately portray the human side of Morgan. That job is just as critical when tackling another prominent Dayton figure, John H. Patterson, founder of the National Cash Register Company, whose heroic efforts to rescue the city are well documented as well as his ruthlessness as a titan of business.

So, how do you create characters – especially fictional ones – who are so convincingly real that readers think they know them?

 

In short, you get into their psyche — long before you start writing your novel. It’s probably similar for actors, who must immerse themselves in a character to convey the character’s life realistically on screen.

Screenplay writer and author Kris Cramer, in her post, “Creating Multi-layered Characters,” recommends that novelists ask many questions when developing their book’s characters.  

An excellent tool is Holly Lisle’s “Create a Character Clinic: A Step-by-step Course to Create Deeper, Better Fictional People.” Through exercises, you define your character’s compelling needs, his or her reaction to those needs and key motivations that drive behavior and relationships.

“Some people think this type of character study is overkill. I don’t agree,” writes Cramer. “Working through these questions and seriously contemplating the answers has helped me get to know my characters much more deeply. When you know your characters so well, you never have doubts about how they would act or react in a situation. Everything they do and say flows from the core of who they are, consciously and subconsciously.”

I agree with her points and am leveraging this course to flesh out my characters for my novel. The creative output up front will result in a better book. I don’t have to only rely on my story’s gritty and true subject matter (a catastrophic flood). I also will have the appeal of realistically portrayed characters.

The goal always when writing true-to-life fiction is to capture a character’s strengths as well as his demons, fears and aspirations. Fully defining my characters now will also ensure that they remain true to themselves in thought and deed – and compelling enough that people will want to know what they’re thinking and especially, what they’ll do next.

   

Harry Potter Film Legacy – Great Storytelling that Made Reading Books ‘Cool’

Photo credit: Warner Brothers.
I saw Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Part II a week after its record-setting opening weekend, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The opening scene begins with Harry, Ron, and Hermione continuing their quest to find and destroy the Dark Lord’s three remaining Horcruxes, the magical items responsible for his immortality. The movie’s satisfying conclusion has the beloved main characters, now married with children of their own, sending off their offspring to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
 
It was the most anticipated film of 2011, according to a Fandango moviegoer survey, and smashed box office records, earning $168 million in North America alone. By far the best of all the Harry Potter films, Deathly Hollows II is getting early Oscar buzz and deservedly so.

But, for this muggle, the legacy won’t be the films so much as the inventive storytelling and rich color that was brought to life on the page by J.K. Rowling in her fantasy seven-book series.

I’m not alone in that view. I recently chatted with Lawson Cox, president of the Atlanta chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators, who weathered the long lines to attend a midnight showing of the movie with his two teenage daughters.

For him, the mania brought back memories of the original Star Wars movie that exploded onto the scene in 1977 followed by a series of hit sequels.
 

“When The Empire Strikes Back was released, people camped out for tickets and waited in line for hours to see the movies. But I never saw anything like that surrounding a book release until Harry Potter — especially the last book in the series,” recalls Cox, whose family attended a local Barnes and Noble book release party back in 2007.
 

“It was an even more enthusiastic crowd than the final movie. There were literally hundreds of people, mostly teens and younger, willing to wait in line for hours and fork over their own money…for a book! In today’s multimedia-focused culture, that is simply unheard of,” Cox enthuses, adding, “Harry Potter introduced a whole new generation to the excitement of reading, and proved that books are certainly not dead.”

When I think of the lasting legacy of the Harry Potter books, I don’t have to look any further than my children, who are avid fans of the book series (we are reading them together, one by one).
Here’s what one young person had to say about the book series’ impact: “To me, Harry Potter is a defining piece of culture for my generation’s childhood and teenage years. Many of us who read these books as kids and then went on to read them ourselves. Some of our first real novels were the Harry Potter books. Just like ourselves, the stories matured and grew with their audience,” writes Alex Corbett, a Canadian 12th grader on a Canadian online newspaper site, This Week.  
 
Rowling has done what another British-born author, C.S. Lewis, did with The Chronicles of Narnia — capture the imaginations of a generation of readers, young and old. Last October, the best-selling author told Oprah that she was open to writing subsequent Potter novels, though she quickly followed up by saying, “I feel I’m done, but you never know.”
Personally, I don’t think she could do any better, except perhaps to write a prequel that more fully shapes the stories of the boy wizard’s parents and their colorful contemporaries, including the complicated character, Severus Snape, played brilliantly by English actor Alan Rickman. Such a treatment would also give fans the chance to delve into the influences that drove the young Tom Riddle into becoming the villainous Dark Lord.
 
I, for one, hope there’s more to come.