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Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Make Your Character A Brand

In the previous post, I gave a few tips on how to humanize your characters in order to establish a link between your story and a reader. In this post, we go back to a more solid marketing concept, which is branding.

The website Marketing MO defines a brand as "the entire experience your prospects and customers have with your company. It’s what you stand for, a promise you make, and the personality you convey."

Put simply, a brand tells everyone, "This is who I am and this is why I'm not like that other guy." While Disney and Nickelodeon both have cartoons, Disney has successfully aligned itself with "family entertainment," while Nickleodeon has always presented itself as "fun for kids." Brands tout messages that target segments of people of a certain age bracket, financial status, lifestyle, even values and ideologies. Logos, taglines, websites, promo gimmicks, advertising--all these are meant to reinforce a brand.

In the field of career development, experts have stressed the need for people to identify their own personal brand as a way to gain an edge in a competitive job marketplace. As what Robin Fisher Roffer explained in her book, Make a Name For Yourself, people can possibly have successful careers when they distinguish themselves from others who do similar work, affirm their true identity, highlight their talents, and establish their reputation in business.

Another way of looking at a brand is representation. Mac computers represent the creative, artistic and innovative, while PC manufacturers have for the longest time focused on business productivity and efficiency at a competitive cost. Axe is the deodorant for men in their 20s, while Old Spice appeals to the older set.

Now let's look at superheroes.

Why has the X-Men been so successful? Because they've hammered into comics fans who they are and what they specifically stand for, an anti-bigotry ideology that no other superhero team has been able to lay claim to, a tenet that readers can strongly relate to. Why has the JLA been so successful, because they've solidified the idea that they have the mightiest and most iconic superhero guns ever.

Superman is about "truth, justice and the American way," a very patriotic tagline. While Captain America may also represent that, he is first and foremost a soldier with a military way of thinking and method of engagement. Very unlike Superman, that.

So if you have a superhero, define who they are and, more importantly, what sets them apart from similar superheroes. Lock a unique history, way of thinking, method of operation, manner of speech, ideology, combat strategy, specialty (like Psylocke's classic "focused totality of telepathic powers"), quirk, maybe even a unique battle cry or expression, as well as a symbolic costume. Seal that part of the character that your reader can relate to. You can even pattern his personality after a few people you know.

When you've completed your character's identity, ensure that the character delivers that identity consistently and strongly in your story, but short of being campy (unless that's what you want). Make him stand out in his unique way. Remember that for the longest time, readers couldn't relate to Cyclops of the X-Men, perhaps because they didn't know what Scott Summers was really all about. He wasn't the innocent "gentle giant" that was Colossus, or the majestic Storm with the "goddess complex."

Even if your story doesn't involve superheroes, branding your lead characters can help delineate one from the other, offering opportunities for various subplots and interesting dialog.

The scene is teeming with characters. Make sure yours stand out.

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