Peggy Bechko: Characters and Skills


by Peggy Bechko

Writing is an interesting profession – you create people from scratch. Sort of build them from the ground up, or top down, whichever way you want to look at it. It’s fun, it’s easy, and it’s hard as hell.

In that quest to make characters real, unusual and fascinating to the reader writers look to imparting something special to that character. Something like a unique skill or an unusual talent, some ability that will set hero or heroine apart from the every day, and yet at the same time, keep that character identifiable, relatable. It could be as simple as being a chess master and using that talent in other ways or as high-profile as being a well-known newscaster, writer or movie star.

But it’s a fine line between giving that hero or heroine some special ability and going way over the top to the point where the audience (novel reader or film goer) disconnects. That can happen when the writer doesn’t match the personality of a character and that character’s past experiences and life lessons with the particular skill or unusual talent he or she’s been given. It becomes like a tag on instead of an integral part of the character.

Think about it. Some things are imparted simply by birth and who the parents are. A prodigy, perhaps with math, perhaps playing a piano, or something else, has received that particular gift through birth. On the other hand being a computer geek or maybe a martial arts master or a jewelry maker are all skills that are learned.

This gives the writer a wide range of possibilities – but also just as wide a range of things that won’t work well. A character who’s never had training or so much as seen a martial arts movie can’t suddenly become Jett Lei.

But, the fun of all this is choosing a talent or skill that fits with the character and the story. The kid raised on a farm working with farm machinery who can fix anything who, as an adult working in the city as an investor calls on those past skills to get a bus running before the train hits it. The chess master, so skilled at anticipating moves thwarts a terrorist attack by being one step ahead. The computer geek so geeky he figures out computer code from beyond the planet is actually a countdown to invasion and he figures it out before anyone else. The magician who commits the perfect crime via his prestidigitation.

The creativity behind these kinds of things is wonderfully exhilarating. Let yourself go and explore different possibilities. When you find something that strikes a chord unleash your muse, embrace the creative, go back and change other elements in the story to make sure it all fits and the special talent you’ve discovered for your character fits with the rest of your story.

There are few things more fun!

Peggy Bechko is a Contributing Editor to TVWriter™. You can learn more about her HERE.