Character Challenge: A Fresh New Spin

Adaptations and retellings of stories have been around for probably almost as long as storytelling itself. Sometimes we think it’s a relatively new phenomenon, given how much of Hollywood’s output these consists of reboots, remakes, and sequels these days, and how little of it is comprised of original ideas. But really, with ancient epics and legends being passed down orally from one generation to the next, with classics from the Greek myths to Shakespeare’s plays drawing large influences from stories that were already well-known in their cultures, the practice has been a major tradition for a long time.

Sure, all the retelling and rebooting can certainly be overdone, and not every new story that comes out of it is a winner. But still, there’s a reason why retellings and adaptations hold a certain appeal, both for audiences and for writers. It allows the opportunity to take something that people already like and look at it in a new way, or for a new writer to put his or her own personal spin on it. The oral storyteller can elaborate or expand on the story the previous generation told him by using his own unique storytelling style. A new director can take a superhero or cultural icon who’s been around for decades and try to make the character fresh and original for a new audience. While we sometimes praise original ideas more simply because of their originality, there’s still a certain appeal to taking something that already exists and making it new, or making it our own.

The whole reason the show Gotham exists is because someone decided to elaborate on a supporting character's backstory. And it's been pretty good so far!
The whole reason the show Gotham exists is because someone decided to elaborate on a supporting character’s backstory. And it’s been pretty good so far!

Of course, there are countless examples in our culture, but the one that got me thinking about this concept recently was exodus-posterExodus: Gods and Kings. I haven’t watched the movie yet, but I want to, despite whatever surrounding controversy there may be from various groups. But in the wake of recent films such as Exodus and Noah, I wrote a post on my blog about the next biblical adaptations I’d like to see if this trend continues. And that got me thinking of how, sometimes, a well-developed adaptation with very complex and human characters can be fleshed out based on very little. While the Exodus is a fairly significant portion of the Old Testament’s narrative, Noah’s story is confined to only a few chapters in Genesis, and yet a full-length movie was made about him. The same can be said of Jonah, one of the other suggestions I made in my post. A whole full-length film could potentially be made out of the Bible’s short account and relatively sparse descriptions of character development.

Based on this trend in books, movies, and more, your challenge is to take a pre-existing character–from literature, film, history, religion, or whatever you want–and flesh them out more or add on to their story. You may want to choose a minor or more obscure character so you’ll have more liberty to be creative and more ground to cover that hasn’t already been taken by the main character. If you don’t know much about your character yet, then figure it out or make it up based on what little you do know. Ask yourself questions like these:

  • What is this characters’ motivation? What are his or her goals or desires?
  • Why does the character want this goal? Is there anything that happened in their life to set them on this path? (Remember, drawn-out origin stories are all the rage these days.)
  • What will your character do to meet his or her or goals? What lengths will they go to?
  • Are there any conflicting desires or interal struggles? If so, why, and how will your character deal with them?
  • How does this character see others? What are their relationships like with other people? (You can use characters from the work you’ve already chosen, or, if not many are available, then make up some significant relationships of your own.)
  • Are there any other quirks or interesting personality traits that your character might reasonably have?

Of course, there are plenty of other aspects of character you can flesh out and explore, but these are a few that might be especially helpful in elaborating on a lesser-known character who someone else has already created.

Once you feel like you know your character fairly well, write a short scene (or, if you’re up for it, maybe the beginnings of a longer project) focusing on this character. Are they going about their normal daily life, or maybe beginning a grand adventure that will define them in the long term? You decide! Use what you know about the character and follow their activities with your writing. Make sure to be creative along the way!

Extra Challenge Post for Sunday!

Ok, so… I know I said I was going to write a post on character development today… and I am… sort of.  However, it’s been a busy week, and a busy weekend.  So, I don’t really have time to put together the post that I wanted to do for today (apologies are rendered and forgiveness is requested), but I do want to give you a character development exercise.  Today I want you to fictionalize an important moment in your life.  This shouldn’t necessarily be a ‘special’ moment, or a happy memory, but instead a moment in which your personal character was tested and grown.  Your characters should generally reflect the people involved in this, including yourself, and the events should also be similar (though they don’t need to be completely the same).  The goal of this exercise is to fictionalize the way your personal character was tested and grown through this event.  Keep things realistic, believable, and complete.  Remember that meaningful writing always involves bearing a piece of your soul, and that can and should be both frightening, and a little bit painful.  Make sure that you write what really happened, not what you wish had happened.  Be honest with yourself and your characters will develop more believably.

Plot (Character) Challenge of the Week

Alright, well this is going to be the last character challenge.  Next week we’ll start on setting challenges, and then we’ll work on theme and plot.  You’ll remember that the goal of all this is to work you through developing the background to a workable story.  So, there are a number of posts about character building and character development already in place on the blog, so if you go looking for those in the categories link (over there –>) then you’ll find some great advice.  So, here are the rules: I want to you make up a character that fits the criteria listed below.  As long as the listed criteria are met, you can do what ever you want with the character, and each of the criteria will have a number of different ways in which it could be expressed.  Take the time to create a complete character, and have it ready by next Friday, when you get your next challenge.

Your criteria:

Lover: Your character is in love.  Whether she is holding onto an unrequited love, pursuing someone who has already rejected her, or is locked in amorous relationship with her beloved.  She is in love.

Shame: Your character has something dark in her past that she keeps secret from everyone.  This may be something generally dark (she killed someone, she was a prostitute, she betrayed her closest friends, etc) or it may be something world specific (perhaps in your setting the worst crime thinkable is to eat shellfish).

Striving for Perfection: Your character wants to be better.  Personal growth and betterment are her highest goals.  This could be religiously motivated, or an effect of her dark past, or just a part of who she is, but she is always striving to be better.

Unique Relationship with Death: Your character has a unique relationship with death.  Perhaps she is dead, or has already died and somehow come back.  Perhaps she can see the other side, or cross over to it at will.  Perhaps she simply sees nothing to fear in death, and so everyone sees her as strange.  Whatever the case, this certainly makes her an odd duck.

I’m not posting a picture with this because I have a feeling that any picture I could find would shape your idea of your character.

Plot (Character) Challenge of the Week

Who is she?

Alright, it’s Friday again, which means that it’s time for another character challenge.  You all are probably familiar with what’s going on by now, but if your not the goal of these posts for the moment (and the next few months) is to help you develop a writable story.  Right now we’re working on characters and we’re going to do several character challenges (I’m actually thinking 5-7 now, but we’ll see), and then we’ll do some setting challenges.  There are a number of posts about character building and character development already in place on the blog, so if you go looking for those in the categories link (over there –>) then you’ll find some great advice.  So, here are the rules: I want to you make up a character that fits the criteria listed below.  As long as the listed criteria are met, you can do what ever you want with the character, and each of the criteria will have a number of different ways in which it could be expressed.  Take the time to create a complete character, and have it ready by next Friday, when you get your next challenge.

Your criteria:

Female: Your character must be a female.  This should be pretty easy, but you’d be surprised at the number of male writers who really struggle to write female characters.  This will be good practice.

Sassy: Your character has a lot of attitude.  She might be a good-natured fire-cracker, or she might have a chip on her shoulder the size of Mount Rushmore, either way she has a lot of sass, and she knows how to use it.

Vivacity: Your character is very much alive, and very lively.  She might love life and this bubbles over into everything she does, or she might simply crave attention and praise.  Either way she is full of life!

Odd Appearance: Your character has something strange about her appearance.  She is definitely human, but she might be incredibly ugly, or incredibly beautiful.  She might have strangely colored hair, or be deformed in some way.  Remember that however you alter her appearance, it will also affect her personality as well.

Plot Challenge of the Week

Is your character a ninja hero?

Alright, it’s Friday and it’s time for another Character challenge.  If you’ve been following this series we’re working on developing a full-fledged story, starting with the characters.  I’m providing you with a few aspects of character and personality that must be involved in the character you create, and then you go to town.  If you haven’t been following along, you might want to go back and do the last two plot challenges, but here are the rules: I want to you make up a character that fits the criteria listed below.  As long as the listed criteria are met, you can do what ever you want with the character, and each of the criteria will have a number of different ways in which it could be expressed.  Take the time to create a complete character, and have it ready by next Friday, when you get your next challenge.

Your criteria:

Genius: This character is a genius.  He is remarkably intelligent, and this may be reflected in one area, or in everything he does.

Stoic: This character comes across as very stoic.  This could be because he has trouble properly expressing emotions, it could be because he is a stoic (philosophically speaking), or perhaps he just chooses to keep to himself.

Or perhaps she’s a mad scientist?

Deadly: This character is exceptionally dangerous.  Perhaps he is a world-class martial artist, or a trained assassin.  Perhaps he uses his genius to build devastating weapons, or to create virulent diseases.  Don’t assume that dangerous equals an ability to fight, but he is incredibly dangerous.

Methodical: This goes along with his stoic nature, but this character is very methodical in the way he does things.  He could have a minor obsessive compulsive disorder, or he may just be a very thorough and orderly person.

Plot Challenge of the Week

Alright, if you read last weeks plot challenge you know that we’re doing things a little bit differently.  It’s been a while since we did a full character/story development challenge on the blog, so last week I started a series intended to do just that.  The rules for this series of challenges are a little bit different, but this week is just like last week… I want you to develop a character using the characteristics that I provide.  Here are the rules: I want to you make up a character that fits the criteria listed below.  As long as the listed criteria are met, you can do what ever you want with the character, and each of the criteria will have a number of different ways in which it could be expressed.  Take the time to create a complete character, and have it ready by next Friday, when you get your next challenge.

Your characteristics:

Poverty: This character grew up in poverty, lives in poverty, and has every expectation of dying in poverty.  This could be for any number of reasons, and the character may respond to it in any number of ways.  Regardless, poverty is one of the defining features of the character’s life.

Handicap: The character has a major physical handicap.  He might be deaf, blind, lame, or suffer from a debilitating disease, but his body does not work the way it is supposed to.  This condition could also be the cause of his poverty, or it could be caused by his poverty.

Religious: The character is a devout follower of some religion.  This could be a real religion, or it could be one that you develop for yourself.  The character may also be a member of the clergy, a scholar, or simply a devout layman, but he is devout.

All Too Human: The character is absolutely human.  In fact you could even call him a paragon of the human condition.  He is good, bad, smart, dumb, wise, foolish, but whatever he is, he is everything it means to be human.

Plot Challenge of the Week

Quick, before the idea gets away!

Alright, you all know that Friday means plot challenge day.  However, I’ve had an idea, so the plot challenges for the next two or three… or four or five (really not sure how long) are going to be a bit different (and by a bit, I mean a lot).  So the first couple challenges are going to be character challenges.  There are a lot of posts on writing characters on the blog so far, and I’m not going to try to link to them all.  If you search ‘characters’ or look through the categories tag on that -> side of the screen, you’ll find plenty of posts to help you out.  The rules for this challenge are a bit different: I want to you make up a character that fits the criteria listed below.  As long as the listed criteria are met, you can do what ever you want with the character, and each of the criteria will have a number of different ways in which it could be expressed.  Take the time to create a complete character, and have it ready by next Friday, when you get your next challenge.

Your character criteria:

Great Flaw: Your character must have a defining characteristic that is a significant flaw.  Perhaps she (the character doesn’t have to be female) is an addict, perhaps she is insane, perhaps she is bitter and resentful of life.  Whatever you want (and this could be combined with one of the other characteristics… I’ll let you figure out which one).

Well Known: For whatever reason this character is very well known, and you must figure out why.  Perhaps she is famous, or perhaps she is infamous.  Perhaps she is a fallen queen, a rockstar, a goddess, etc.  But she is a household name.

Multiple Personalities: Your character has multiple personalities living inside her body.  There are many ways to do this in fantasy.  Perhaps she has D.I.D. and is truly insane.  Perhaps she is under some curse or spell, or perhaps she is the saving grace of the souls that live within her.  Perhaps she is inhuman (an alien, monster, or goddess), and having multiple divergent personalities is natural.  Her personalities may be aware of one another, or they may not.  They may cooperate, or they might work at cross purposes.  Have fun with this.

Passion: Your character must be exceedingly passionate about something.  Perhaps she is a crusader whose cause means everything.  Perhaps she is a parent.  Perhaps she is a fool who jumps from passion to passion without regard for the damage she does in the process.  Again, enjoy yourself with this, and be creative!

Next week I’ll have another character challenge for you, and probably another one the week after that, and then we’ll go from there!

Character Challenge of the Week

Let's face it, you can never have enough superheroes.

Alright, so with the Avengers coming out yesterday I’ve been watching superhero movies all week… including seeing Avenger’s at the moment this post goes up (midnight showing).  So, I’m admittedly on a superhero kick.  I’m sure that all, or at least most, of you remember the character challenges and the story building challenges from a few weeks ago.  Well, today I want you to do something similar.  The goal of this challenge: create an original superhero and his nemisis, explain how they became archrivals, and develop each character as you see fit.

What you must have for each character: Power set, origin story, personality profile, first meeting with nemesis

Some ideas for powers(you are not limited to these): Gravity control, super strength, flight, eye beams (any kind), weather control, matter alteration, super speed, healing factor, immortality, increased knowledge or intelligence, telepathy, telekenesis, physiokenesis (mental power over one’s physical form)

Some ideas for basic origin stories: murder of family member, accident, government experiment, illegal experiment, kidnapped by crime syndicate, natural powers, mists of eternity, spiritual experience

Some ideas for first meeting: Kidnapping, foiling a crime, stumbled on lab, met at a party, extreme trauma

Character Challenge of the Week

This picture was done by Andrei Bouzikov.

Alright, so last week you all wrote up your settings.  This week I want you to write up your characters.  As I said last Friday, the goal of this series of challenge posts is to prepare you to write a full story for yourselves.  So, you’ll need at least one character – only that if you want to do a one person story – but you can have as many as you want.  Below I have provided several basic concept archetypes, and I suggest you look at this post on character building.  I want you to put together fully fleshed out characters that you can use both in this story, and in others.  So, below are the archetypes, feel free to use them if you want, or feel free to make up your own.

Your Archtypes:

The Soldier – Who fights for a principle

The Mercenary – Who fights for money

The Merchant – Who lives to make money

The Con-man – Who lives for the next scam

The Pickpocket – Who steals to live

The Professional Thief – Who lives for the perfect job

The Martial Artist – Who always seeks a challenge

The Trophy Wife – Who lives to be seen

The Conqueror – Who plans to rule the world

The Hero – Who always does what is right

The Heroic Villain – Who always does what is necessary

The Hermit – Who has left the world behind

The Old Man – Who has learned the lessons of life

This isn’t a complete list, but it should be enough to get you started.

More of Bouzikov’s work can be found here.

Plot/Character Challenge of the Week

You never know what you might find in the forest.

Alright, last week I gave you a number of characters to fully develop.  This week I’m only going to give you one.  However, you have to not only develop a full character, but come up with a plot for that character.  There are (very generally) two kinds of stories that you can tell with one characters.  These stories are Man vs. Nature stories, where you’re character is pitted in conflict against the world around him, and Man vs Himself stories, where the central conflict in the stories takes place within the character himself.  Both of these general types of stories can be written with a single character.  So, here is you’re challenge.  I am going to give you a setting, and three character archetypes.  You choose one, put together a fully developed character, and a plot for a one-character story.

Your setting:  A forested valley deep in the mountains.  The forest is almost completely undisturbed by man, and it is home to many dangerous animals (both mundane and fantastic).  There is a river running through the center of the forest, and there are several small clearings.

Your Archetypes:

The Wildman: The wildman is one with nature.  He has lived his entire life in the wild, perhaps he was even raised by animals.  He is strong, bestial, and very skilled at surviving.

The Martial Artist: The martial artist is a skilled warrior.  He has trained his body and mind in harsh conditions, and he is always seeking new challenges.

The Hippie: The hippie loves nature, but  doesn’t really understand it.  He is always trying to find himself, looking for ‘the real’, and seeking to protect what he loves, even though it might kill him first.