by Beth Vogt
As I crossed over from the nonfiction side of the writing road to the fiction side – a.k.a. the Dark Side – I needed to master new rules of the road. Even as a novice novelist, I knew a can’t-put-it-down book needs compelling characters. But how did I go about developing captivating imaginary people? I found an online “character questionnaire,” pages and pages of getting-to-know-you information deemed vital to my hero and heroine.
When I was done filling in the blanks, I had a severe case of writer’s cramp, a worn-out favorite pen, and all sorts of Intel about my main characters: birth dates, professions, political affiliations, church denominations, favorite snack foods, favorite colors, favorite movies … you get the idea.
I was ready for a game of character trivia – and nothing more.
My Book Therapy, best-selling author Susan May Warren’s writing community, provided the first key to developing true-to-life characters: the Dark Moment. The Dark Moment is a specific negative event in your character’s past that shapes them into the person they are today, i.e. at the beginning of your novel.
Why is the Dark Moment so important to developing your hero and heroine? The Dark Moment leads to a:
- Wound – which causes them to act a certain way
- Lie – that they believe is true (usually some sort of lie about themselves)
How to develop the Dark Moment
When you mull over your character’s past, their Dark Moment has to be s-p-e-c-i-f-i-c. You can’t just say, “My hero had a rough childhood” or “My heroine feels like her father doesn’t love her.” You need to know why the character says and does the things they do – and to accomplish that, you have to go back to the Dark Moment and experience it with your character. When you write out the Dark Moment, include things like:
- Date – How old was your character when the Dark Moment happened? Hint: It should happen early in their life – no later than the end of high school or very early college. The Dark Moment event has to influence who your character becomes, so they have to be young enough for the event to shape their personality and beliefs.
- People – Who was involved in the Dark Moment?
- Location – Where was your character when the Dark Moment happened?
- Details – What happened? Add in Storyworld, five senses and dialogue.
- Results – Why was the Dark Moment so hurtful to your character?