If you ever watched the cooking show, Chopped, you know the chef that usually wins is the one who has best repurposed the four ingredients provided for each course. In the appetizer round orange candies can become part of a cognac reduction served over anchovy grits; A Swazi cucumber can turn into an artichoke pesto sauce over tuna repurposed as a meatloaf. Often they provide coffee, corn, or carrots to be combined with other ingredients for the dessert round.
Much the same can be done to create complex and, therefore, interesting characters.
I read an obituary the other day. These are generally provided to the paper by a relative of the deceased. This one read in part: He was a born leader, charismatic, vain, ambitious and a goal-oriented materialist. Take that description and combine it with your tall, dark and handsome protagonist and see what you come up with. Or change the he to she and you have a whole new character.
Choose any friend to create a visual of your protagonist and then pick one or two more to give him/her characteristics. Do this before you set your character in action. Creating your character first determines how he will act under certain circumstances. If I choose a handsome forty-year old recovering alcoholic, he’s going to behave differently than the same handsome teetotaling fellow when he meets our heroine in a bar. Take the same good looking guy who can handle his booze – you’ll need to add something else interesting about his character. What about your uncle’s aversion to high pitched sounds? How could that play into your story?
If Elena, the fourteen-year-old piano player in my most recent book, had been eighteen and never saw a piano, the entire mood of the book would have shifted. Could Hannibal Lechter have been a woman?
Once you have created your characters, put them in a blank room and see how they react to one another. After you have steamed, stewed, or fried them into palatable people, you can put them in your story and be assured that readers will find them complex and interesting.
Veronica Helen Hart is the Faculty Chairperson for the Florida Writers Association 2013 Conference. She is also an award winning author and playwright. Her quirky novel, The Prince of Keegan Bay, (Champagne Books) began life as a NANO novel before winning first place for humor in the Royal Palm Literary Award competition and going on to become a Champagne book. You can also look for Elena-the Girl with the Piano as a Kindle book on Amazon. It's official publication date is April 1.