Posts Tagged ‘character development’

Now That’s a Character…

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?

They called me a hero. They thought I would save them. They watched me go mad, and reign over their destruction, and still they looked at me with hope and trust. Always believing that what I did was to save them. They were fools to trust me. I was a fool to believe them. When the end came and they asked my “why?” all I could do was laugh and cry. The sky turned black and the seas boiled. Mountains fell as the earth cracked and everywhere was blood and death. and me. I was the sole cause of it all. I was supposed to save them. How could I when I couldn’t even save myself? I don’t even have it in me to destroy myself as I deserve either. Or maybe I don’t. Maybe this is what I deserve. To live out the rest of my life alone, surrounded by the ruin I have made.

 

I came across this beginning part of an old novel today. I had written a few chapters of it, fleshed out some of the characters and set it aside to work on something else. Why? Not because I lost interest in the tale, but because of world-building. Whenever I sit down to work on the world, I get stuck . And being pure fantasy, well, I need to know the world. I need to know things that won’t ever make it into the story. The kinds of things that readers would take issue with, scoff at, call out as too much detail, in love with her world, and on and on. But it doesn’t change the fact that I need to know the world these characters live in. I need to know the rules of magic, the terrain, the races, the hierarchy and social systems. All of it has to be outlined in order for me to write the story I want to write. When I write urban fantasy, the world-building is much less important. I take from reality and mythology with a good dose of whateveriwant thrown in for good measure. It gives me time to focus on the story and the characters instead of the world. I get why epic fantasy writers always have to add more books as their readers sigh and complain, always waiting for the next book. It’s because this whole world all of a sudden becomes so much more complex than you thought it would. Characters become more involved and the story starts to take on a life of its own while you shout at it to wait for you. So what is it about world-building that makes me abandon a tale I want to tell? I really don’t know. I’ll sit down and start fleshing out details and hit a block that doesn’t coincide with what I have written or doesn’t work with the other structures I have set up.  I’ve never had to build an entire world before, the closest I’ve come to god-like qualities is growing babies. A world is a hell of a lot more involved (and takes a lot more thought) that something my body does naturally. (Notice-raising those babies into decent human beings? Much harder than building a world. It also takes years and years and you still never know how its going to turn out and you never get to hit delete and take out chapters you don’t like either.) Now before my digressions go too far, I’ll get back to the point. Which right now happens to be digressing. When unfocussed, world-building jumps all over the place, taking me from magic, to social to government, back to the actual story and over to characters. I have a hard time sticking to one topic, fleshing it out and moving on to the next, building off of whatever system I have already developed. Or some part of what I have actually worked on and developed inspires me to get back to the story until I realize that once again, I need to get back to my world-building in order to continue. Frustrations occur, another idea pops in my head and off I go to write a simpler story, while the novelIalwayswantedtowrite sits and waits patiently, popping up every so often to remind me of its presence. Do I have a solution? No. Do I have a point to this post? I guess not really, because just like my world-building, I have rambled all over the place trying to get an idea fleshed out and never really achieving what I set out to do. I am inspired though. I am motivated (today) to try my hand at building this world that starts with its destruction. Today I am beating this world into submission, making it obey me and be what I want it to be. At least until it hits me back. I never quite know what to do at that point. Just ask my little brother.

 

So speaking of world-building, are there any tips or tricks you employ in your own writing to actually flesh out a world so that the writing flows easily? Or do you let it all just come to you as you write?