How to do killer apps. Or character development for story telling.
Gogol Bordello, Undestructable
Some of you may know that I had my deep drink of the start up kool-aid. Among them was a software development company. We made killer apps. Miracles on demand.
We took Microsoft technologies beyond Microsoft. It took Microsoft five years to catch up with where we were five years before. That meant that most of the time we had no idea how to create the mad things that I was imaginating.
Just a vision, a mission, hard deadlines, and demanding customers.
But we had the internet!
Books were useless to my software architects and developers. Because books are dead languages to the hard core. Like Latin or Greek.
They needed inspiration not obsolete rules. They needed fuel to envision code that they would write blindly and boldly – in defiance of the stars, experts, and wisemen.
They used to search for that fuel in the wildest ways.
I’m applying that kind of madness right now. Because I need to write and rewrite. I need to give life to my characters right now. And there’s no way I can find or get books in English on the subject by tomorrow. Or next week. Because I’m in Romania.
My best friend tells me that it just might work. I don’t have much faith in this working out for me. But I’m desperate enough to try it out.
So I go to Google, type my incantations, and I get a bunch of results. I open two dozen pages in separate tabs, and then I go through the tabs, closing or keeping them based on my 3 second glimpse of what’s there.
It’s how the guys did it. Actually, they all still do it that way. At some big companies.
And I, I too hear the song, Undestructable, speaking to me:
There is a core and it’s hardcore
All is hardcore when made with love
Love is a voice of a savage soul
This savage love is
Can you hear the music, Jack Steiner?
The results of my madness are as follows:
1. Great Characters Solve Great Problems
Holly Lisle recommends it is best to develop a character by giving him/her a problem to solve and define what needs to overcome his problem.
John doesn’t want the people that he loves to die – especially not to die horrible deaths. More than anything else in the world.
What does he need?
Beyond the ordinary, John especially needs…
1. Miracles and other supernatural assistance
2. To understand how heaven speaks and what is asked for in return
3. To become a great leader,
4. People who will follow him into hell and into ever deeper and horrifying levels of hell.
Lisle also argues passionately that we must empathize with our characters – but not sympathize with them and spare them their agony.
Unfortunately for John, he is spared nothing.
Finally, Lisle reminds us that we must write from our life.
You can only write what you know, but you can take the fears and hopes and feelings you’ve experienced in a relatively mundane existence and translate them to a broader canvas with imagination and persistence.
2. Great Characters Know Who They Are
Denise Robbins says that character interviews are powerful mojo.
“If you had a free day and the world wasn’t going to end in your life time, what would you do?” I asked.
“I’d be playing the MMORPG, Book of Carrot. I’d be saving that world,” John replied with a big grin.
If Stan is happy, happiness will be written into my destiny, he thought to himself.
“I can hear your thoughts,” I said.
“That sucks,” he said and looked around the room. He was bored.
“OK, Smart—! Anything else?” I pressed.
“Sex on the beach. Read a chapter or two of a digital book. Sushi – a pound of fresh tuna. Lots of wasabi and candied ginger on the side,” he answered without thinking about it. Then he tossed my iPhone on my desk with contempt.
Dude, you need a better phone, he thought to himself.
“When you wake up in the morning what’s the first thing you do?” I asked.
“Light a cigarette. Take a piss. Make coffee,” he said and yawned.
“Put on K-9s and read the social while drinking my latte and smoking cigarettes in your Frau Poltrona Hydra armchair with my feet kicked up on your desk.”
Everybody gets to sit in the cool chairs but me. Hachi, John, everyone but me, I think to myself.
“You’re going to die a horrible death if you put your feet on my desk again,” I grumble. “You know that… right?”
“Sounds like you need to let go of some of that anger,” he said cheerfully.
“Screw this and screw you!” I shouted. “I’m the one writing your story. Respect my authoriteh!”
John looked like he needed to hear something more.
“If I can’t make you and the other characters come alive, I can’t sell the book, the game, or the TV show. If I can’t sell that, you don’t get a white Porsche 911 to drive around post-apocalyptic Bucharest.”
That would suck, he thought to himself…
“So what makes you special?!” I asked in frustration.
“God speaks to me,” he answered in a whisper.
“God speaks to you through me. God will speak to them through us.”
“That’s crazy,” I argued.
“Uite asa, dude,” he said, then went to the kitchen to look for some food.
3. Great Characters Speak From Their Hearts
Make your characters come to life through dialogue, says Mervyn Love. They cant all sound the same. They can’t use the same words.
Mervyn gives examples to show how your character speaks with others defines them, – how they see the world, and – how they respond to the world.
“What do you think about that Mervyn is saying?,” I ask John.
“Good stuff… NOW WRITE!” he shouted in desperation.
“I didn’t say write a blog post,” he texted an hour later.
2 March 2012