Trying to Write a Character with Meaning

I’ve been trying to keep on top of writing recently, and while I’ve been fairly bad about actually writing anything fictional (at least on purpose), I’ve been doing some musing about why a lot of the stories that I’m coming up with the seeds for turn out to be non-starters.

The big thing that I’m getting is that I’m having trouble writing characters who have a purpose in the universe they inhabit. This isn’t a problem I tend to have when I’m playing a roleplaying game or doing other things, so I’m going to do a few quick breakdowns for why I think I’m having problems doing this.

No Conflict

I think that a lot of what’s going on is that my characters just don’t have conflict in their lives. They aren’t interesting because they don’t have anything to really strive against.

This is simply part of worldbuilding and setting, but it’s interesting to see how much it can make or break characters because of how it’s absent.

I think that a good way to do this would be to return to the drawing board and give a few more good hooks before I start trying to write. For instance, I had a concept about a posthuman thrust into a role of recovering an erased identity, but that’s a fairly lame proposition because there wasn’t any conflict there.

It’s the post-cyberpunk equivalent of hunting down a missing USB memory stick.

Now, that’s not to say that it couldn’t be an interesting concept, but my vision for it just didn’t have enough meat to it to carry anything other than a short flash fiction.

I’ve done this better in my sci-fi short story collection The Dust, which I wrote a while back just for practice. Lesson to be learned: you can’t start a story with just a character.

No Goal-setting Worldview

One of the problems–and this is both an extension of the lack of conflict and a flaw in how I’ve been writing characters more generally–is that my characters don’t really have any philosophical justification for what they’re doing.

Or, rather, they are in survival mode. This can be compelling, of course, but I’m still something of a fledgling storyteller and I’m definitely not able to carry the “I just want to survive” story, at least with the concepts that have been appealing to me of late, in part because the few conflicts that I’ve been mulling over don’t really match those goals.

I’m reminded of my time that I was working on The Gates of Arstelem, which I really need to finish, and how the characters had a very good desire to do things. Too much, perhaps, because the core plot kept getting tangled up in surreal dream sequences and chronic betrayals, but at least they were motivated.

No Deep Relationships

I’m very introverted in my daily life, and I think this carries itself over to the characters that I write. Heroes don’t tend to drag their loved ones along with them into the supernatural world (though I have been considering how to play with family dynamics and the Hero’s Journey, in part for an upcoming game project).

I’ve also really been at a loss for characters. The two novellas that I started drafting and didn’t finish writing were both ones with protagonists with few ties to the world; a newly-made orphan hunting for a lost mother or a post-human searching for a missing identity lack that connection to others.

The hero only really shines when they are able to change their own world, but if they don’t belong in any community or society they can’t really do that, at least not meaningfully. Going back to The Dust, the stories in that collection that I feel are the strongest involve characters that have ties to the organization or group associated with them.

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