Friday, 11 May 2012

Caring For Awkward Characters – by Guest Author Nik Perring

This week we are delighted to welcome Nik Perring as our guest author at the Edge. Nik is the co-author of Freaks! and the author of Not So Perfect.

For me, Story is all about characters. A story is, in my opinion, what happens to the people in it. They shape it, by their actions and their circumstances and how they react to them. You can’t have a story without characters. 

So, as an extension of that, I think it’s fair to say that you can’t have a good story (however you qualify that) without having a good main character, or ensemble. And how do decide who your characters are going to be? Well, that’s the difficult bit, isn’t it, especially when we don’t find out who they really are until we’ve seen how they’ve reacted to the troubles that are put in front of them in our stories. 

For me, the best characters are the ones we can see a bit of ourselves in. Empathising is important – we have to care, one way or another, about what happens to the people we’re reading about - but what can be equally important is recognising the traits we might wish we didn’t have, or the ones we dislike to see in others. And I’m not really talking about the broad character types – the bullies, the tyrants, the liars – though they can all make for being exceptionally interesting – I’m talking about subtler things. I’m talking about things like insecurity and selfishness, about vulnerability and not quite understanding the world as, it would appear, the rest of the world does. I’m talking about the characters who struggle, who worry, who might be anxious or uncomfortable, or awkward or just plain weird. 

I’m talking about the things that make the characters real, that make them human in the same ways we are, and that’s what makes us care what happens to them. Because, really, that awkwardness, that sense of not quite fitting in – it’s something I think we’ve all felt to some degree at some point in our lives – and that’s what makes us, us. 

But it’s not just about empathy, nor is it only about honesty. It’s so much more than that – it’s about opportunity. As I said earlier, if our characters are interesting and good, then there’s a good chance our stories will be too.

Nik Perring is the co-author of Freaks! published by The Friday Project (HarperCollins) and the author of Not So Perfect (Roast Books). 

He blogs at http://nikperring.com and tweets as @nikperring, and his characters tend to be very awkward and very weird indeed.

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