You cannot dream yourself into a character; you must hammer and forge one for yourself.”  Creating fictitious characters starts with dreaming them up, but what makes them memorable is how we hammer and forge their destiny.  Your character’s destiny is dependent on the adversity you confront him with,  and the power you assign him.  Lincoln stated, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”  Have a look at these characters and remember what they suffered and what power they accepted or refused:  Jay Gatsby, Sherlock Holmes, Holly Golightly, Lolita, Scarlett O’Hara, Scout Finch, Duddy Kravitz, Alexander MacDonald, Offred, Kurtz, Grendel, Yuri Shivago, Harry Potter.  And there are so many more memorable characters because they are not caricatures, but people.

Personality can open doors, but only character can keep them open.”  In order to keep your readers locked into your character’s destiny, they have to want to be part of their lives, like an unseen friend or enemy.  Their actions, reactions, and conversations have to make your character an irresistable spectator sport.  Here are some samples of character hammering and forging:

from Carry Me Home

Jean’s father, Mr. Scotty Lisgar, had been indicted on May 1, 1956, found guilty on September 10, 1956, and imprisoned in the Kingston Penn on September 12, 1956, five days after his daughter, Jean, returned to the Guelph Collegiate Vocational Institute to teach chemistry, zoology, math, and a host of indictable language crimes committed by fifteen, sixteen, and seventeen year olds.  By November, the term had become insufferable for Jean and her aura of misplaced grace.

The year before her father’s arrest, she had been voted the most popular teacher and had role-modeled herself into the hearts of many hero-worshipers – students she had enfolded under her pedagogical wings and teachers who saw their youth reclaimed in Jean.   Male and female staff members fantasized about her, and now this – half smiles, stretched over half brains.  They had become automatons turning away from Jean, a pathetic, genetic mistake whom they had once called Sunshine because of her pink, luminous cheeks, fresh with young womanhood.

One word, ‘guilty’, had changed her whole life.   She resolved not to stay under those circumstances.  She resolved to resign and seek employment in a place where the blood of her father and mother-gone-loco, running in her veins, didn’t matter.  She handed in her resignation against the protests of the director of education and her principal who defended her, but could not persuade her to fight harder.

from Things to Come

Three months earlier when Jesse knew the Exodus Bill would pass like gold-laced pee, he made a decision to leave Carmen, his wife of twenty five years.  The wife-turned-politician became married to all that was phallic in the city and was devoted to keeping its virility clean and strong.  It was Carmen who spear-headed Salvation Exodus – the systemic purging of the homeless inToronto that had become stained with human soul loss.  Jesse shuddered at Carmen’s dominance, her climbing on him during his REM time or in the hot tub. He hated her power, her imagination, her rancid self-gratification.

He made preparations to escape Carmen’s philanthropic bullying.  He took a quilt his mother-in-law had made and pissed on it, empowering it with anti-social stink stains.  He stored it in a large IKEA bag in the garage, along with oversized clothes Carmen made him keep as a reminder of his former obesity.  He had smeared rotten food groups on them and partnered them with the quilt until Good Friday came, when he ran away and found a grassy patch beside Ajax and Cleo in the heart of downtown.  Faking sleep he let the evacuation team work its magic, assuring him softly that his life would soon be a whole lot better.  They labeled his bag, “Man with the tree of life quilt.”  He didn’t bring a keepsake, didn’t leave a note, and threw his ring down the toilet.  Anonymously he left Toronto for a sanctuary north by northwest.

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