October has arrived (or gone, depending when this piece is posted) morphing trees into balls of flame, and sending normally good kids straight to sugar-hell. I’m a huge fan of Halloween. Count the skulls in my house! I’m also a storyteller. If you’re a storyteller, then death works well as a plot-point if the story is a thriller or other sub-genre of mystery. However: if you’re building a character around which to craft your story, dead might connote a different, truly horrible meaning: Boring.
What makes a character memorable is not a list of physical oddities, but an ‘inner’ problem or a problem imposed upon a character as a direct result of the person’s inner makeup. The problem should ideally relate believably to what kind of person he/she is—meaning the makeup of a character’s values and life situation (to keep it simple). Agatha Christi was a master of conveying to readers exactly who her characters were by use of stereotypes (for which she was criticized) and then twisting something expected about that character into the unexpected.
For instance Ms. Christi might have written about the village parson, a soul of charity and kindness, who quirkily adored tender roasted and seasoned orphans for his Sunday supper. He preferred to spare parents the anguish of a missing child by consuming only orphans. Truly the soul of charity and kindness.
The unexpected twist thus gives origin to the problem, which must be swiftly resolved (for whatever reason—life and death is a popular choice). But to create a memorable story, the ‘twist’ must relate believably to the character’s inner makeup.
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