Tag Archives: character building

D for denial

What is that new D?

We had to deal with two Ds before, one for desire and one for distance. The desire lets us know the character’s wishes and what lies underneath. A desire is something bigger than a simple “oh, I wish to arrive on time.” For instance, the small Neil wants to go to the Moon; he’s always watching that piece of rock fluctuating in the sky and promises himself to do it. He needs to enter a prestigious university to study hard; his wishes are many, but his desire is something else. Ultimately, he will succeed in being Neil Armstrong and having his feet walking on the Moon itself. As we saw, many things happened, but he was driven by a long-shot desire.

Denial, the third D.

Now, the Moon is far, far away from us and it seems impossible to reach, so we don’t only add small steps but some (as my wife would say) pepper to it. Yes, as when you’re cooking, and you decide that following the recipe, your meal would end up bland, so you choose to add some spices. As a good chef, you must understand how to modify the old-fashioned recipes of writing stories to make one unique and immortal for your readers. Neil wants to go to university, but he loses his father the day before. He’s stopped by a dilemma: stay and help mom and the other brothers and sisters, or leave and have a chance to go to the Moon one day? Well, it’s beginning to be an exciting story, right?

Now, welcome to the third D, which stands for denial. We decided that Neil wanted to go to the Moon and we spiced up and planted small traps along his path, so now we need to take another step in this direction. He won’t go to the Moon, or at least that’s what your reader would have to believe and you need to let them. 

I remember the first time I read about the Milgram experiment, which took place in 1960. It’s a famous experiment where ordinary people were paid to inflict pain on others, to the extent that they would kill the unlucky ones. Only a very believable staff would let people think that, at Yale University, people would ever be allowed to inflict pain on other human beings and maybe even kill them for an experiment. But that’s precisely what happened. I mean, not killing people, but cheating them, letting them think that was possible. And that’s precisely what we need to do with our readers. They need to believe that Neil lost his father, so he won’t be an engineer and go to the Moon (come on, really? The Moon?). Later he should have to decide if he has to stay with his young wife, who is pregnant now, or go to explore the universe. The readers have to think he won’t, that Neil is the kind of man who decides to stay with her no matter what, especially at that moment. 

This D is the final decision, the most decisive, where Neil has to prove himself worthy of us reading his 230 pages story. He won’t go to the Moon but wait for a second. He’s already there. I went a moment to the toilet and bam! He’s there, closing his eyes for the countdown! So he did it in the end, that son of a preacher! What happened right there? Something like his wife coming to him, telling him that she will survive alone, but not thinking that she took this life dream from him. Their son needs to have a happy father, while a frustrated man would be worst than a dead one.

This was the third D. Next will come the last one of these beautiful fatty letters, D for Devastation. Keep always reading!

The 4Ds

And none of them is Daniele, pity

We imagined our characters, maybe watching a colleague closely for years or just having a glimpse of an old woman on the way back home in the metro. Whatever the case, we have the first idea of our characters and a vague idea of the plot. Now, we decided to tide up our characters (or nicely invite them to a tea party), and we started questioning them. We saw how comfortable it is to ask easy questions and how uncomfortable it makes us ask some more profound, strictly personal questions. 

It’s totally fine. But it’s still not enough. With your characters, you need to ask questions about their past, their dark secrets, and their manias. Think about how challenging it is for you to ask any question to a complete stranger, even where to find the closest pharmacy. And now consider how challenging is to answer a question since it’s still you speaking through your character.

4 Ds shape your characters

Suppose someone is describing a car to you:

“With a maximum top speed of 105 mph (169 km/h), a curb weight of 1993 lbs (904 kgs), the TR3 has a naturally-aspirated Inline 4 cylinder engine, Petrol motor. This engine produces a maximum power of 101 PS (100 bhp – 74 kW) at 5000 rpm and a maximum torque of 159.0 Nm (117 lb.ft) at 5000 rpm. The power is transmitted to the road by the rear wheel drive (RWD) with a 4-speed Manual gearbox. On the topic of chassis details responsible for road holding, handling behavior and ride comfort, the TR3 has Coil springs. Front suspension and Semi-elliptic leaf springs. De Dion axle. Rear suspension. The TR3 braking system includes the front and rear for stopping power. The TR3 model is a Cabrio car manufactured by Triumph, sold new from 1955. I’m going to sell my apartment to buy it.”

If you are ignorant of car matters, you’d most probably find this description ultimately futile. You have a lot of information, but you didn’t give anything useful to the general reader; no emotions mean no way for the reader to follow you into your story. Also, when that person added he would sell his apartment to buy it at the end of the description, you probably thought he was insane. Let’s imagine another person describing to you the same car in this way:

“Yesterday, an old man approached me at the market and asked me if I had ever watched La dolce vita by Federico Fellini. I’d never seen him before and found that question really odd. At any rate, I wouldn’t lose anything answering back, so I did. I told him that I’m a cinema connoisseur and mostly into old Italian movies. So he told me that he had the original car from the movie, the excellent Triumph TR3. That’s a magical, convertible, fashionable car as no one does anymore. When you accelerate, you feel the engine almost speaking to you, a roar full of stories and secrets. That’s more than a car. It’s an obsession now. I’m going to sell my apartment to buy it.”

Now, even if you’ve never heard of the car before, you probably start visualizing yourself seated in the front seat of this cult car, the engine speaking to you. You know this person is a cinema connoisseur and all the information you acquired is helpful in understanding the ultimate decision. It’s still a crazy conclusion to make, selling an apartment to buy a car, but now you know why. There’s a reason behind it.

Well, what we’ll do next time is to analyze the 4 Ds that will shape your characters and, therefore, your story:

Keep reading!