Skip to main content

I want a character who writes herself

I’m working on a project with Eric Fogel, creator of Celebrity Deathmatch, and I’m struck by something.

In-the-back-of-the-head struck.


Eric has an ear for what fuels a line, a scene, a story. He’s also a master at concocting elegant characters and situations. It’s a mutant power that I hope to activate in my own DNA by either breathing his exhales or stealing blood. Barring that, I’ll write crap until I get it.

The noggin-bleeding moment came about due to something Eric said. He’d just emailed me a completely new story using an old character he developed way back in college. He’d written this story in a couple of hours, and it’s really good.

“This character writes itself,” he replied, when I asked what drugs he uses.

He’s right. I’ve written a number of stories with his character over the years and it’s always the easiest project imaginable. And the yarns I’ve woven are some of my favorites.

So what’s the secret? How can I create a character who writes herself?

The way I see it, this is the rule:

Start with a simple character who’s good at one thing. Make the world bereft of that thing. 

Two great examples of the kind of character and world I’m talking about…

One, Sherlock Holmes. Best detective in the world. When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.

Two, Superman. Hero with super strength and an infectious innocence. Fights for truth and justice.

You can write a million stories about these guys. Their “premise” is simple, which is just another way of saying that they have simple souls in a complex world. Sherlock knows the key to success is eliminating the impossible. Superman knows injustice when he sees it (because it usually punches him in the face).

On the other hand, there are characters like Harry Potter. He’s a one-off. He has a history which must be addressed. He has a destiny, which is the end of his story. If his story continued, and didn’t tie into his struggle with Voldemort, it probably wouldn’t resonate.

After sticking some needles into my makeshift doll of Eric, I took a look at my own work. My tendency is to create complex characters with destiny.They drive toward an end that’s obtainable if they don’t give up. They have arcs that dictate whether they will be seen as realistic, entertaining, solid. If I deliver on the arc, I succeed. If I don’t, then I don’t.

In the spirit of expanding horizons, my next character will be simple. She’ll be good at one thing. The world will need her. And her job will never be done.

What kind of main characters do you prefer?

[this post originally appeared on Ben Zackheim’s blog]

Back to Top Back to Top