Think You Need Therapy? So Do Most Main Characters.

Last time I brought up building character we talked about baggage and what it does for our cast of players. The funny thing is that like us some of them should get some help. The most eccentric characters can be the most fun. I’m not saying that all characters have to be completely mad, but a fear of spiders, being disgusted when their hair gets messed or a guest not using a coaster does add flavor.

The most well rounded, stable and what we used to call normal people are not the best choice for a main character. They are much too middle of the road to be entertaining, unless you throw a cream pie at them. Well, that’s always funny.

But seriously, normal people have a place in the supporting cast–shoulder to cry on, sage with wise advice, etc. They cope too easily with misfortune, and don’t have an emotional range that an entertaining story requires. Staying in character is a must, so normal doesn’t just throw a hissy fit when it suits the writer. Big no-no that.

Characters can bring humor to a tale, but the darker the problems they carry with them the darker the story can become which leads to the decision making process.

After you decide if your story will be a light read or psychological thriller, you’ll decide on the cast of characters you’ll need to bring it to life. This is also where plot and characterization snowball and evolve together. Here is when I make a general outline–mostly of plot points, and decide on how the characters will interact with each other and the future events.

What I try to do: I imagine a group of people trying to attain personal goals while events beyond their control take place. I already know that some characters will have agendas that have nothing to do with the story. For this example I’ll use a murder mystery because the lines are pretty clear as to what the story goal is. “A” is trying to find the killer. “B” is trying to get away with murder. “C” thinks he knows whodunit and wants lots and lots of money to keep quiet. “D” just wanted to have a nice dinner and is very upset that “E”, the victim, died at the biggest event of the season–not that she liked him very much anyway. If you put everyone in one room, there will be a heck of a show. Other cast members are there too. Some stand back. Some try to stop the arguments. Some just want to get out of there.

Since we are looking for conflict and tension I think we’ll have that. In fact, I strongly suspect that “D” might kill “B” for ruining her party.

Using baggage, and slightly off balanced characters can add flavor to your plot. So don’t let your main characters get any psychological help until after the writing is done. Slowly becoming “normal” can be part of your character’s arc.

What are some of your favorite characters? Do any of them need therapy or do you love them as is? πŸ™‚

25 responses to “Think You Need Therapy? So Do Most Main Characters.

  1. I’d like to think all my characters could use some kind of therapy, though some would only drive a therapist mad. ^_^ But I like the idea of every character having their own personal goal, that seems like the sort of thing to consider at the start of a plot, since the characters are all going to keep moving toward different things. Just getting them to work together could be very interesting.

    And for the record, I’ve written a set of scenes where one character actually serves as therapist to a bunch of other characters. It was odd and I thought it would be boring, but my readers loved it. Heh.

  2. Excellent and fun post Anna. Since I’m a reader, not a writer, I’ll comment from the perspective. A lot of the characters I meet in books need therapy. If they aren’t flawed in some way, they come across flat and I could care less about them. Give me insecurity and damaged psyche and I care, I connect.

  3. I love characters that need therapy. Makes them more exciting to read about. As far as moi, we’ll leave that for another day. LOL

  4. Lol. Forget my characters, I think I need theraphy πŸ™‚ My life always ends up with a murder.

  5. I characters having flaws or quirks definitely makes them feel more real and relatable. I love a damaged heroine or hero.

  6. This is great. In a book on craft I was reading a while back, the author said to using misunderstanding can make for some great scenes as well. Made me think of that part in the movie Fiddler on the Roof where Tevya thinks the butcher want to buy Tevya’s milk cow but the man really want to marry Tevya’s oldest daughter.

  7. I loved flawed and damaged characters who overcome in my novels.

  8. I had someone in my critique group say I had mental problems because I wrote about a serial killer. Yeah, he no longer is invited to our critique group. lol.

  9. As far as characters needing therapy, I recall JK Rowling once saying that she suspected Harry Potter would probably grow up to be a very scarred individual after everything that happened to him. He’s probably really in need of some therapy.

  10. Oh my word, this is sort of what my current WIP is about πŸ™‚ Childhood trauma, panic attacks…and the crazy maybe otherworldy things they do to us πŸ™‚ That send us to therapy, among other things…

    Sarah Allen
    (Writing Blog)

  11. I like it when the protagonist is not too normal or too well-adjusted. It does make them more fun and challenging, especially when you throw them some of life’s curveballs. How they handle a crisis helps to grow the plot. πŸ™‚

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