Writing Tip: Know Your Character Truths

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Note: I'm guest posting today over at The Writer Diaries on cutting out distractions and finding time to write. Feel free to head on over there and say hello!

Every character has a few core beliefs, values or motivations that are integral to who they are. These “truths,” as I like to call them, are essential to a character’s identity, and are underlying influences on every decision they make. 

For example, in one of my WIPs, I have a character with two core truths: to avoid unnecessary loss of life at all costs, and to uphold and maintain honor. These truths not only influence his decisions, but at times come into conflict, which creates moments of indecision and internal struggle.

For a more accessible example, let’s take a look at “Sherlock.” While most renditions of Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous Sherlock Holmes series follow the same core values with Sherlock’s character, the BBC TV series does an especially wonderful job highlighting Sherlock’s core truth and driving force; that is, solving the puzzle. To Sherlock, solving the puzzle is  the most important thing there is—and if he happens to save some people along the way, fantastic. But that’s not his motivation.

Now that we’ve defined the truths, you may be wondering when in the writing process is a good time to figure them out.

For effective character development, the sooner you know your character truths, the better. But if you don’t figure it out before you start writing, there’s no need to panic—it’s something you can refine during drafting and revision.

As for me, I tend to work out my character truths during the actual writing process as I become better acquainted with my characters. Sometimes, the truths reveal themselves during the first draft, but many times I have to dig a little deeper and really refine it through several rounds of revision.

In the end, what’s important is that you work out these truths for each of your major characters (yes, that means your antagonist, as well). Once you’ve worked out what really makes them tick, the rest will follow.

Do you know your character truths? When in the writing process do you tend to work it out? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
What are character truths and why are they important? Writer @Ava_Jae explains. (Click to tweet
Do you know your character truths? Here's why they're important. (Click to tweet)


Sarah Anne Foster said...

I like this idea. I think if I really boiled it down, my main character's truth is just to avoid being bored. It's when something comes along that interests him that he gets into trouble.

Ava Jae said...

That's a great one! And I can't blame your character, either--boredom is dangerous.

Robin Red said...

My MC is a total bookworm, and her personal truth is that if she reads about something in theory, it should perform the same in application. I find it interesting when a character's truth is proven wrong and becomes his or her own undoing.

Ava Jae said...

Hmm, that's interesting and a different way to look at the character truths I was referring to. Unless, of course, that's a defining aspect of your character? Hmmm.

I'm not sure so much about a character truth being proven right or wrong (because the truths I was referring to was more of a core belief or motivation that makes them who they are, not quite a fact that could be proven wrong), but I do find it interesting when characters have to work against their truth, or have conflicting truths. Inner struggle is one of my favorite things to write about. :)

Ava Jae said...

That sounds like a great way of handling character truths. I also develop personalities while writing (and sometimes they turn out entirely different from the way I initially imagined them), and I think it's fantastic that you try to use character truths that reveal themselves later on to work with the story. Thanks for sharing!

SJ Mitchell said...

In one of my WIP's my MC's truth is 'seeing is believing'. She's very much about what she can touch, see and feel. She has little to no faith in the unexplained. This provides some excellent dialogue between her and her counterpart whose truth is his 'blind faith'. They are yin and yang. Its fun to watch them sort through events because some situations have them both questioning their own truths.

SJ Mitchell said...

Thanks! It's created so much great dialogue, I've had to scale it back to prevent the book from straying from the main plot.

Ava Jae said...

Ha ha I'll bet! Better to have too much than too little, though, IMO. :)

Jennifer M. said...

Excellent tip. I'll have to try this. I find my characters all end up being different versions of myself. Not sure if that's a bad thing or not, but it could help differentiate them by looking for their key truths.

Ava Jae said...

Thanks, Jennifer! I think every character is bound to have bits of the author embedded in their being. It only becomes an issue (IMO) when they are too similar to the author, to the point of Mary Sueism.

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