Find Your Fictional Character’s Energy Motivators
How an ancient philosophy of energy can help you create better characters
by Deborah-Zenha Adams
It doesn’t matter what genre you’re writing, characters are the lifeblood of your story. No matter how perfectly-plotted, tightly-structured, and wildly creative your story is, readers might not stick with it if the characters are hollow, bland, or just plain unbelievable.
You get that. We all get that. Characters must be well-rounded and fully-realized, with both positive and negative qualities to make them realistic and relatable. So why do our characters still sometimes ring hollow? More importantly, what can we do to ramp up the authenticity of the players in our fiction?
There are lots of charts and templates and lists of personality quirks that you can use to flesh out your characters, but here’s a caveat: you can’t just stick one trait onto an otherwise purely good or purely evil character and expect readers to fall for it. Flaws come in clusters, and they come from a source. If you’ve tried to develop in-depth psychological profiles of your protagonist and antagonist but they still aren’t breathing, I’ve got a quick and easy tip to offer.
Try using chakras.
What are chakras?
Chakra is a Sanskrit word meaning ‘wheel,’ and it refers to wheel-like masses of spinning energy that helps to maintain health within the body and mind. Sometimes the energy wheels will be called spinning disks or even flowers. Mind you, these aren’t physical objects, but part of the subtle energetic body. The concept of chakras is ancient, and found in a great many spiritual and philosophical systems. It’s also a lot more complex than a blog post or a workshop can convey.
But have no fear. You don’t need to understand the fine points in order to create well-rounded and unique fictional characters. In fact, we aren’t going to refer to chakras again after this introduction. Let’s just call it energy and move forward. When you’ve tried this system once or twice, you’ll find that it’s both easy and fun to use, and it adds a wealth of dimension to your writing.
How can a character’s energy status be useful to you, the writer?
You’ve surely run across a character in a book or story that just didn’t resonate. Maybe you couldn’t quite put your finger on the problem, but that character never won your affection. The likeliest cause is that the author failed to go beyond the surface and connect the dots in that character’s personality.
Anyone can design a villain who is 99% stereotypical evil, and give him an affection for puppies. You know, just to make him “well-rounded.” While readers may not explore the why of it, they’ll know something’s off, something’s not working. They might even give up without finishing the story, or worse—never read that author again.
How do you fix a shallow character?
One way to find your character’s depth is by incorporating a cluster of related energetic traits. Let’s say your protagonist is anxious, nervous, or just vaguely tense about nothing in particular. Now a single instance of anxiety isn’t a symptom of anything in particular. Maybe she just drinks too much coffee. But when your character is acting from an Earth Energy imbalance, for example, there will be a cluster of related behaviors. That character’s entire lifestyle will be affected—eating habits, housing, clothes, job, car, social interactions, you name it.
In this 7-part series of posts, I’ll explain how to identify defining emotional and physical reactions to the world and how to use those clusters of energies to infuse life into your characters. We’ll begin with Earth Energy, the foundation of every character’s personality.
There are lots and lots of chakras, but I’m only using the primary seven in this series to give you an idea of how you might employ them in fiction. (If you’d like more information after reading this article, you can grab the free Chakra Basics PDF from my website: http://www.deborah-adams.com/subscribe-to-updates/pdf-chakra-basics/ )
Thank you for kicking off this series! Part 1-Earth Energy is live on my blog now. Part 2-Water Energy will be hosted at a different blog on June 2. My hope is that others will find this technique as helpful as I do.