09 October 2007

Writing Lessons: The Character Résumé

Okay, this is one of the many techniques for getting to know your characters and getting inside the way they actually respond to situations. You've probably seen one or more of the many character questionaires or memes that have circulated. My favorite, however, is to actually write a résumé for the character. If you happen to be putting together your own résumé for that endless job-search, there are some pointers here that might help you on that, too.

Wanted: Evil villain for mystery novel

Must be able to use people without conscience, despoil innocent women, and be facile in financial crimes. The successful candidate will have experience in seduction, embezzlement, strong-arm tactics, and simple theft. Candidate will be a self-starter, well-educated, and socially ascendent. Apply within.

Okay, that's the want-ad. Now, how will you put together your résumé so that it sells to the prospective employer. Here's a hint: It doesn't look like this.
1998-2000: Personal Assistant to Lex Luthor, Luthor Corp.
2000-2001: Self-employed in money laundering business.
2001-2006: Member of George Bush's cabinet.
2006-Present: Consultant to UAW/CIO labor union.
BA in Economics from Brigham Young University.

All too often we think of a résumé as our employment history. And while that might be of help in an interview where someone wants to know if you actually know Lex, it doesn't really tell anything about your experience. Compare that to a résumé written as accomplishments:
As Personal Assistant to Lex Luthor, I coordinated the take-over of the Smallville Bank, personally evicting 35 farmers who were behind on their mortgages and engineering the acquisition of a single plot of over 4000 acres without cash payment.

Without my employer knowing it, I embezzled $750,000 from said bank into off-shore accounts, establishing a network of pseudo-legitimate business clients.

Single-handedly turned network of business clients into a sieve for laundering the money received from drug-lords in South America, legitimizing the income through acquisition of real estate in South Central Florida.

Set a record by seducing 14 brides in a single 30-day period, on their wedding nights (sometimes in pairs) and lifted over $4,000 from their wedding gifts without being detected.

So, see the difference? First of all, based on the job requirements I posted, I have found a candidate that appears to be more than qualified for the simple jewel theft I had in mind for my story, but now I can start weighing other candidates. You are thinking in this process of what kind of background will give your villain the skills, motivation, and character that you need in order to pull off the caper in your story.

And by the way, that is how I wrote my own résumé and is how I write my goals for the year. No one is going to be interested in how I served my time. They will be interested in what I accomplished. The same is true of your villain or other character. Write him/her a good résumé and you will know precisely what he/she is capable of when you write the book.