Forming Characters

by Leonard Bishop

Leonard Bishop

Leonard Bishop

Fiction writers are alchemists. They draw together scraps of illusion and transform them into readable realities. Major characters must have size. Great ambitions, exaggerated passions, fascinating minds, superhuman capacities for love and hate, and monumental capabilities. If a major character is not heroic, why read about her? If villains are not superbly evil, they cannot experience excruciating defeats. If the villain is a push-over, then the hero is not exceptional. If the villain is merely a sly wimp, he is not a believable challenge for the hero.

Heroes and villains must have “size” and take great risks to achieve superlative goals. The separating factor is always revealed in the moral realm. They must be placed in at least four life-and-death situations, so their moral choices can be revealed. The hero always chooses the moral act proper for his Time. The morality of the villain proves to be episodic, concealing his inherent corruption.

The sooner the writer invents a circumstance that sets the hero and villain into a clash of purpose, the sooner the story becomes tense and exciting. It is through dramatic situations. peril, injury, violence, treachery, death, etc., that the stature of the characters grow. To create suspense and expectation in the plot, the villain should be winning the confrontations for about three quarters of the novel.

The villain should have more material resources, more contacts, an amoral ruthlessness and hatred. The hero is a veritable battering post which seems about to be irreparably shattered. The remaining quarter pivots the hero. Here she begins succeeding, to finally become victorious.

In the writing of fiction, there is a stark difference between heroism and being a hero–between villainy and being a villain.

Heroism can be a one-time action committed through impulse, panic, or in an contemplated decision. Being a hero is a sequence of conscious choices that increases a person into becoming extraordinary. Villainy can be a one-time act of destruction, committed through impulse, panic, or in human pressure. Being a villain is a sequence of destructive behaviors that are committed with conscious deliberation–usually for personal gain, revenge, or uncontrolled jealousy. In the writing of fiction, all heroes and villains should be complex people. If they are one-dimensional, they cannot bear up under intrigue or anticipated events. Their resources for remaining interesting become exhausted. If they are complex, they can always be dramatic and surprising.

©2013  the estate of Leonard Bishop

(first published February 9, 1985 the Manhattan Mercury)

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