Write Characters Your Readers Won’t Forget (Stant Litore)

Characters.jpgWrite Characters Your Readers Won’t Forget is actually the first in Stant Litore’s writing series, though I looked at the one on worldbuilding first. It is even slimmer — about a hundred pages in a relatively small-format paperback — and makes for a fast read.

Though very different in form, shape, and style, it reminded me a bit of Lajos Egri’s approach. Litore asks us first about our character’s core strength, a characteristic that will enable them to face down some difficult situation and overcome it. Everything else — both their problems and the solutions to those problems — flow from that strength; just as in Egri’s view of drama, every situation and characterization has to flow from demonstrating the narrative premise.

As in Write Worlds Your Readers Won’t Forget, Litore provides a series of linked exercises for the reader, focused on brainstorming outward from these issues. After the initial task of looking at core strengths, he goes on to build up the reader’s skill in observation. There are exercises on noticing and recording physical sensations associated with emotion, and on developing dialogue style. Ultimately, Litore covers some of the same territory you might see in a more checklist-like approach to building a character bible, but the way he develops the priorities is important. It starts with the things that are likely to matter the most in creating a compelling story, and then allows the details to hang from those.

Some of the exercises here suggest that you talk to another writer or show your work to a critical reader, so they may be easiest to perform, at least in their unedited form, in a writing workshop. And, of course, as with the previous book, none of this is really designed with specifically games writing in mind at all — but the exercises can be applicable in a similar way.

At one or two points, Litore suggests some exercise that I think has obvious applications across to games. His Exercise 26 is about writing and rewriting the same important scene, from the perspective of different participants in the story, until you have enough information and enough nuance to do a good final cut. He doesn’t anticipate that you’ll actually use those earlier examples: those are just exploratory. But interactive stories often do allow the reader to experience them from multiple angles or with multiple perspectives — so it’s possible for all of those pieces to come to bear simultaneously. (That is actually one of my favorite things about writing for interactivity, the ability to embed multiple dimensions of character meaning or thematic significance into the same scene depending on how the player approaches it.)

This is a very lean and effective book, explaining lean and effective techniques. Each chapter suggests methods and skills that could take weeks to exercise and months or years to master — but that’s fine. There’s very little waste either in the length of the book or in the practices Litore recommends.

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