Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Note on Character Development; or, What would my MC do if an alien ship landed?

Word of the day: scuttlebutt - 1. A drinking fountain on a ship. 2. A cask on a ship that contains the day's supply of drinking water. 3. Informal. Gossip; rumor.

Awesome word. Somehow, someway, I'm going to work that into my WIP today.

Found a great new read in Maggie Stiefvater's blog, especially her post on being asked by acquaintances to be written into her books as a character. Rachelle Gardner also had a great post of writing tips that I mentioned awhile back about putting your MC (or ancillary characters, if you so wish) into strange situations to judge their reactions and thereby deepen your understanding and development of said character.

Character development is an interesting process, one I would guess a lot of writers don't pay enough attention to, myself included. I consider myself a storyteller, not a builder of characters or worlds. If what I'm doing isn't driving the story forward, I'm not interested. Which is probably a bad idea, and why I am still le amateur. To be fair, Stiefvater (anybody else think Darth Vater when they see that? No takers?) explains that character development is meant to drive the story forward - you create characters who are bigger than life, and far more one-dimensional than real people so that when they step out of character, it's for a big reason (like saving people's lives, yo!). I had never thought through it that much, but she's definitely right. For some bizarre reason, to make a character believable we have to boil them down to a few essential traits that define their role in the story. Such characature, even in our celebrities, makes stories somehow more digestible. Even complex characters are only hinted at, their inner depth suggested rather than outright stated. That's how we know they're deep, because we don't know what they're thinking.

So it's most important in character development to create those few essential traits - two or three, let's not get cocky - and build all plot and dialogue out of those traits. It makes writing more manageable, and it makes reading more manageable. That's not to say you shouldn't think about all aspects of your character, but that doesn't mean all aspects need to come out in any given story. Otherwise you get a confusing mishmash that even Tolstoy would shy away from.

Any writers out there working on character development issues right now? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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