Monday, August 1, 2011

Getting To the Core of the Character

When we write, we have to know our characters inside and out. We have to understand what makes them tick. We have to let them make choices based on who they are, and it is our challenge to make those decisions unexpected yet understandable. 

Inside every character is a core truth, something that defines their identity. Of course there's more to them than just that - there better be! But understanding that core truth can help guide us to knowing what that character would do in any given situation.

We know we have to come up with loglines for our books, one sentence that encapsulates the entire book. But can you do that for your characters?

Let's use an example, shall we? Oh I bet you know exactly where this is going... Damon! My favorite conflicted vampire. Remember the scene I made you watch in this post? If not go grab a refresher. The rest of us will wait and enjoy the eye candy.

If I had to guess Damon's core truth, it would be this: I am not human, and no matter how much I want to be, it can never happen.

Everything Damon does stems from this core belief, doesn't it? He embraces his dark side because he believes that's what he is. He acknowledges his human feelings for Elana, but agonizes over never being able to be what she needs. He insists his brother is pretending to be something he's not.

Now it's your turn! Try this with some of your characters and see if you can get to the basis of what makes them tick.
photo credit pic 1
photo credit pic 2


  1. I think a character's logline is another word for their internal conflict. And yes, every character needs one. :) I think without it, the external conflict doesn't mean as much.

  2. Lisa! This is very cool. It sort of reminds me of something from psychodynamically oriented psychotherapy called the Core Conflictual Relationship Theme method, in which the therapist helps the client identify recurring patterns that play out across relationships. One theme, lots of different effects throughout the person's life. Great post!

  3. I love the idea of a core truth or core conflict! Hadn't thought about it in those terms. I'm thinking of my main character right now, and I think her truth is that she does not know who she is because two sides of her identity are at war with each other. Does that make sense?

  4. Great example-Damon is one complicated fellow but I love watching him. you never know what he's going to do next! Creating a logline for the characters is a great excerises too!

  5. Wow, Damon . . . . *brain goes to mush in a dreamy hazy*

    *checks other comments*

    *rushes back to re-read post*

    Great advice, Lisa. Man, you love to make us think in the morning. :D

  6. *picks jaw up" Thanks for the Monday morning wake up call!

    I've heard of preparing the logline for the book before writing it, but I never thought of doing it for the character. Excellent idea!

  7. Time to sit down (again)and have a heart-to-heart with one or two of my characters. Could they be holding back on me?

    A week ago I found out one could be pregnant at the end of the book...what?!

  8. Love the character logline. Comparing their internal conflicts to their external ones adds some cool layers to work with. Nice picture to start the week with as well. I've gotta check out Vampire Diaries.

  9. Laura - SHH! That's another post I have in a couple of weeks...

    Sarah - Oh yeah, I DEFINITELY meant that. *nods seriously* LOL, I think those therapists are on to something!

    Susan - Yes, it makes sense! :D

    Creepy - good to see you! Yes, I use him as often as I can, and not JUST cuz I like to look.

    Stina - LOL! All you need is a little coffee!!

    Julie - :D Thanks!

    Dean - I love it when my characters surprise me like that.

  10. I would have never thought to give a character a log line - great post PLUS the shirtless Damon didn't hurt. :)

  11. Damon is so Yummy!!

    I love the idea if creating a " log line" for characters.
    Thanks for the great post. :D

  12. I love this, Lisa! I keep Voice Journals for my characters where they talk freeform about who they are, and answer questions I pose to them. I've never tried to describe each character in one sentence that captures their core truth, though. Now I know what I'll be doing during lunch.

  13. Yum. Though I didn't need the refresh, I have to admit I checked it out again anyway. Excellent post, and I'm not just saying that because of the eye candy. That core truth is so important!

  14. Tiffany and CherylAnne - YUM

    Linda - Hope it was a good lunch! LOL

    Heather - :D Glad we're on the same page!

  15. Too good.
    what were we talking about?


    oh yeah, core beliefs.

    The other thing I love about core beliefs is that all conflicts spring from those beliefs.

    Conflict is not just about two toddlers wanting the same toy to play with. It's from their belief that the toy is theirs. Mine! Mine! Mine!

    And I'm not sure we get any better at reconciling our beliefs as we get any older. Oh dear, that sounds waaaaay too deep.

    Back to looking at the pretty man who forgot to wear his shirt again.

  16. Wow..... *drools*

    Oh, sorry! I was thinking about Dam-I mean my own characters as I was reading this post.

    Seriously though, Lisa...this has gotten me ticking on my characters and diving even further into their *core*. I know their truths, but I want to dive further and see what not only makes them tick, but what drives them to make the decisions they do.

    Great always!! :)

  17. Ebony - What a brilliant example! The toddler's belief that it's "mine" AND you also made me laugh!

    Melinda - Aww, you're always so sweet!

  18. Love that eye candy! What a great idea, to do a log line for our characters.
    I'll pass this valuable info on to my critique group. Thanks!

  19. Wonderful post and such great points. It's hard for me to write about a character's conflict without knowing his core truth and what makes him work the way he does.

  20. You just had to plug some eye candy in there, didn't you? :) Well done! love this post. Certainly inspires me as I write the first draft of my new YA.

  21. OOOOOOOOohhhhh! Lightbulb! A logline for a character!!!!!

  22. What a neat idea! It reinforces some of the ideas discussed at my critique meeting tonight.

  23. That's great stuff! I'm starting my rewrite now, and I need to keep that in mind! Great post!