Characters – The Good, The Bad, The Ugly.
Posted on July 21, 2019
Welcome everyone, I hope you’re all well and enjoying this quite balmy summer we seem to be having. As promised last week I will be dipping into all things character related today, mainly discussing what I like and dislike, what I think aids character development and also a particular focus on creating vivid characters for our readers.
In my opinion and it is just my opinion of course, the way a writer develops their character over time is perhaps the most important ingredient keeping us readers coming back for more. If a character’s story arc is frustrating or monotonous or even really predictable, we can sometimes switch off and lose focus. Spending time in the development and planning of our characters story arcs is vital. I’m most engaged when kept guessing, at times finding a favourite character’s trials and tribulations becoming my own, at that point the writer has probably got me hooked, therefore encouraging me to read on. The way I try and achieve this is to always keep the reader guessing, if they can see a character’s progression from a mile away what will keep them coming back? As touched on in previous posts, planning is a big thing for me, I really struggle writing something off the cuff, I need to sit down and think about different scenarios and how certain characters and also different areas of my story will be affected by the decisions made. This often translates into many hours drafting notes before eventually sitting down to write a chapter, but for me that’s the process I follow to get the best results possible for myself. It’s subjective however, some writers may struggle with so much planning and find that when the ideas are flowing that they’re best off getting to work, it’s about whatever works for you.
Now, getting a reader’s attention straight away is important, when introduced to a new character I want to know the basics quickly, such as what colour hair they have, how long it is, what colour their eyes are, how short or tall they are. Why is that important? Well firstly from those things I can already picture the character, and once I’ve learned what those things are, I’ll know for future reference when reading on. I don’t want to find out in chapter 25 that my favourite character is bald when I’ve been picturing them with long hair for most of the story. Drip-feeding more subtle characteristics throughout the story can take more time but help with building that image of a character for us as well, this could include a hobbled walk they may have, or something like a nervous twitch when they speak. These things can sometimes allow us as writers to introduce a character into a scene without them needing to speak. An example of this in the story I’m currently working on, working title AOKTKC, is a character with very defined features, things that make it easy for me to bring them into a scene. I also have a character with a very pompous nature, his behaviours reflect that, and the reader will be able to easily identify them through those behaviours.
My next point may sound a little contradictory, but I’ll try explaining it as best I can. When growing with a character I don’t like it if I’m aware of all the information regarding where their story arc is heading, so in a way I’m advising you not to give away all the information at the start. This may sound quite obvious, but it can definitely be overlooked sometimes, we’ve got this great idea and can’t wait to share it with the reader, so we tell them straight away that the protagonist is a long-lost son of the king or something. I’m not ashamed to admit that in my first few attempts at writing I was guilty of this, but you learn with time and practice, some people may just pick it up naturally. Sharing significant details over time helps build suspense and will ultimately keep us wanting more. Also, now this is a bit of a difficult one, as it requires serious consideration and judgement, try not to become so overly attached to your characters that it affects your decision-making process. You may sit there reading what I’ve just written thinking you’re absolutely bonkers, how could we not grow attached to our own characters? Believe it or not I agree, it does sound ridiculous but think about what I’m saying. If the story would benefit or could be enhanced significantly by a character’s rash decision or even potentially losing the character would you write that into your story? What if you’ve grown so attached to them that you can’t? We will of course find ourselves changing the plan while we work through a story, new ideas will arise and sometimes you think of things you simply didn’t at the beginning, but try not to be ruled by your love for a character you’ve created. I know it’s hard, sometimes we’ve spent years writing them and the thought of saying goodbye can be difficult. The example I like to use for this is George Martin with A Song of Ice and Fire, look at how many characters he waved goodbye to. It couldn’t have been easy but he made those choices and the series benefited as a result. Believe me there where times I could’ve throttled him, especially when the Frey’s murdered half the Starks, but each and every time I wanted more.
Lastly, I’m going to touch on a couple of my favourite characters and what makes them stand out. Perhaps the most well-known character in the world today takes first spot, Harry Potter captured my imagination the second I picked up the series. He was different and I liked that, we found out very early on about his parents and Lord Voldemort, but the rest of his journey was incredibly well weaved over seven books. In some ways I could relate to Harry and in others I couldn’t, he was a wizard at the end of the day, but all his highs and lows become my own. My second favourite character is Simon from Tad Williams Memory, Sorrow and Thorn series, although a much more traditional story arc of young magician’s apprentice, it captured my imagination in so many ways. Tad gave him such a personality I almost felt like he was my best friend at times, constantly eager to find out what happened next. I think with both of the characters above they would never be what they are today without JK Rowling and Tad Williams incredible skill. I was left in suspense at all times and could barely put the books down before picking them back up gain to find out what followed. Spending time reading and writing will ultimately help us decipher what we like and dislike in a character, so again this is my number one piece of advice when learning how to write them into your stories. I would also like to finish on the theory that you should always go with your instinct. If a character forms in your mind and feels right whilst you write them onto the page then go with it.
As always thanks for spending the time to read through my post everyone, feel free to comment and I’ll see you all real soon.