My lovely, when you’re alone in your bed…” Peter Sarstead, Where do you go to
I always heard it as alone in your head, which probably says more about me than I ought to admit to.
I suppose if your story is all action, could be performed by automatons, there is no back story. Nothing in the character’s head… or bed. But we humans are social animals and we’re fascinated by characters, by the interaction between them, by what goes on in their heads. And beds.
That is what makes us tick. (or in one of Misty’s novels tock. and tock. and tock. Like most men I find a little conversation appealing, and a little more action pleasing after a while, I’m afraid. Is that a stereotypical reaction?). Still, it is those motivations that make the action take the direction it does. The author needs to know it all, down to the last gory gruesome detail that no one ever admits to, even if the reader doesn’t.
I’m sure there are people who are stereotypes in real life. But in fiction, well, they get old quite quickly. If I read another white male carbon copy villain I’ll probably do what I did with the last 10 – write that author off, give up the book. If anything this is what is killing sf/fantasy. It’s as predictable as a date with your right hand, but much less satisfying. Of course, the white male makes a perfectly good villain… sometimes. But not if he’s a carbon copy stereotype.
And if your villain or hero, or poor old red-shirt is not going to end up being a stereotype, they need a convincing, complex, plausible backstory. More so than ever if they’re going to be standard NY publishing type villain or hero, because you’d have to go through some pretty weird formative experience to be either, that or be stupid enough to accept the stereotype pap as a life-model, which for the average hero or heroine would – applying any reader logic – end a dreadful and terminal mess at about page 4. This has the plus of keeping the piece of drekk short, but little else to commend it to readers – unless they’re part the minds-of-pap, feed us more stereotype pap brigade. They exist. They even, the ones that can read, believe the stereotypes. But as the dropping numbers of NY publishing sales indicate, there are less of them than NY publishing believes.
So… this a writers blog. What do I do to make my characters not be stereotypes? Because, darlings, I’ve had white male hetero villains, gay villains, pagan villains, Christian (at least supposedly) villains, black villains, female villians, Chinese villains, Arab villains… etc. etc. And pretty much the same for heroes/heroines. It occurs to me I have had two orthodox Jewish heroes and they haven’t a villain go, but I daresay I might do that too one day. For me it starts with getting to know the character, getting inside their heads, and my own heartfelt belief that unless whatever the feature is is a driving motivation which over-rides everything else (Elizabeth Bartholdy – her vanity) people are far too complex to be good or bad and fit neatly into all the stereotype boxes. So I try to work them back, work out what the crucial, shaping bits were, work out what added to that architecture, and what will make them behave as they will when I play G*d in the story and toss circumstances at them.
So what do you want to know about your characters, before you write them?