Characters are what draw me in to the story, make me want to continue to read, to devour, a good book. It is the plight of these characters, their growth, their trials, that keep me wondering after I put the book down what will happen next. Some authors are quite adept at giving me what I want in a character, others, not so much. Granted there are books that I have read and fully enjoyed that do not have the development I want in my characters, but overall, my favorites are character-driven stories that just happen to also have an awesome plot.
As a lover of all kinds of fantasy, I find that sometimes character development falls to the wayside, trying to get EPIC story status but falling short when after 10 books, the characters have not really changed, learned or grown from the multitude of trials they have survived. And while I continue to read these books for the plot, I often get quite frustrated at this lack of character development. You may be able to write descriptive prose that immediately draw me into the world and plots that make my heart pound and twists that make me breathless, but if the characters fall short, I will ultimately be disappointed. I may even rave about your books, how awesome they are, but in the end, there will be a big BUT…
As a writer, I find that character development is my favorite part of the outlining/development stage of my stories. I like to get into their minds, build up their life stories to determine how they became the way they are in the present and why they will act a certain way during/before/after significant events. Sometimes, I find that I like my characters too much and other times I want to kill them off before their time because I don’t. Finding the balance at times is difficult. I read a lot about authors becoming too attached to their characters. And I know how easy it is to do so. When I mentioned to Candice, (My artist on Nyctalopia) That the day may come when I might just have to kill off one of our women, she looked stricken. She didn’t want to believe it. I don’t want to believe it either, but the story may take me there and if there is one device that writers use that I absolutely hate, it is the altering of character in nonsensical ways just to force the story to go the way you want. So while it is not set in stone, while I have not nearly gotten to a point where that is necessary, I am trying to prepare us both for a possibility that may never come to pass.
The easy part of character development, for me anyway, is the back story. The story I tell myself about this character to determine why they act the way they do and what in their life would bring them to this point. Character development gets harder the more you write the story though. It is easy to fall into the trap of nonsense to further the plot instead of taking a step back and thinking about what this character would actually do in the situation at hand. When I read over first drafts, I find these instances frequently. Even after revisions, I may miss some of these points or glaze over them in the effort to further the plot, but as a reader whose pet peeve just happens to be instances such as this, I have to be vigilant. Characters should behave in character. Without the prescience to know the outcome, humans will behave in character. If a person acts out of character, those around will take notice of the change and question it. As it should be with fictional characters as well. If my characters alter their behavior, I damn well better explain the why of it eventually or expect readers to take issue with it.
Now maybe I am crazy (well…I know I’m crazy, but I think this is sane, right?) to put so much on character development. Maybe to others the characters are less important than the plot, but for me the characters are integral to the plot and therefore just as important. I get bored by books where the characters are unimportant. I get bored by pages upon pages of descriptive prose. But give me insight into a character and chances are I will stick with the book to the end. As I tell me husband, I don’t get crushes on people, I get crushes on characters. So until I develop the magical power to bring to life characters from a book, I’m all his. And as long as authors continue to write compelling characters, I will continue to be absorbed in the book, devouring the words on the page as if I am a part of what is going on. And I will continue to work on character development in my own writing in order to bring that fantasy world to life for my own readers.
What do you look for in a book? What are some of your favorite fictional characters? And to other authors out there, how do you stay on track with your own characters in order to make them believable?