Monday, March 19, 2012

Trying on the Overcoat

Ryan Edward has two jobs. He owns mattress stores, and he buys and sells items much like you see on the popular television shows, Pawn Stars and Storage Wars. He loves antiques and has a great knowlege of history. He bids on Storage units that go up for auction and it's always fascinating to see what he ends up owning, everything from someone's old VHS collection to highly valuable treasures. I tease him that so many of his success stories start with, "So I thought better of it, and dug it out of the trash."
On Saturday, he came home with the most amazing memorabilia from World War II. He sat us all down in the living room, picked up each item and told us its story. The most interesting and foreboding was this jacket.

It was worn by a member of the Gestapo during the reign of Adolf Hitler in Germany. It's sitting in my living room, its black leather worn and rough and heavy. I could try it on, but the very idea scares me. What acts did the hands that slid themselves into that coat every day commit? What were the thoughts of the man who buttoned those buttons? Was he conflicted? Was he purely evil or just filled with a hope that had turned to dillusion?
Writers have to think a lot about people. We have to think about who they are, about their thoughts, their motivations, their goals.
Dwight Swaine

wrote that it is impossible for a writer to do justice to any real person with a character in a book. People are too complex. Our job is to accurately portray the things readers need to know about our characters.

According to Randy Ingermanson, there are three main things a writer should try to understand about his character when he "tries on his overcoat".
1) His values, or his core truths.
2) His Ambition, what he wants most in the world.
3) His Goal, the one concrete thing he believes he needs to do, or be, or have in order to achieve his ambition.

I might have to try on that heavy, Secret Service overcoat and get inside the head of my villain. We all know I'd rather write about the hero and the damsel than the bad guy. I once watched Beauty and the Beast at the Tuacahn Theater and Gaston stole the show. Who are your favorite villains?

No comments: