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On Charecter Development

Guest rusticmonk86

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Guest rusticmonk86

Gabriel Duncan

On Character Development

I jumped off my Vespa and into another beautiful morning Sherman Hill. The air was moist, and mist settled in the air, giving everything past Lorenzo Ave. (two blocks away) an opaque haze. Pink-lemonade magenta and tangerine orange ribbons hung in the sky as groggily as I felt, and cast a pink glow across the buildings all around. A one-armed man sat in his chair, at his table, and watched me take in this scene. I wondered what he was thinking. That was when I realized that writing scenery was much easier to do than give a character depth.

Last night was sleepless. My day of fasting from writing ended now. It started yesterday, as soon as I left Starbuck?s. Technically, I shouldn?t be writing this now. But I?m much more comfortable here, among the morning rush, than at home, with the staccato sounds of preparedness.

People will tell writer?s anything. I?ve been bombarded with stories ever since I started writing. Half because I?ve always been interested in what gives people their depth. Or what made them choose the choices they live with to day. The other half: because I?m a slave to my art. I can?t control when inspiration will hit. So I find myself scribble on things at the oddest times.

But actually gathering the stories is different from re-iterating them to the page. It takes a finesse that takes time to acquire. And it?s something that I?ve struggled with for a long time. Ask me why?

It?s because I myself never really take the time to regard my feelings; much less where they come from. Doing so would not only have made me happier sooner, but would have helped my stories flow from a dry, distant, first-person narrative into a more lively set of internal monologues and a deeper connection between my characters, the reader and me.

It is imperatively important that you look at yourself when writing any character. A writer writers from personal experience more than anything else. I?ve found that simply reciting a story isn?t enough. Feelings drawn from experience have everything to do with the relationships, choices and habits that people must face in real-life. So, your character must, too. Take this short dialogue for instance:

Sally was furious, ?How could you?!?

I was furious, ?How could you?!?

Now, those lines, from different perspectives and out of context already convey a lot. Sally is furious. Someone did something that she didn?t appreciate . . . at all. But why?

She trusted the person she is furious with to watch her dog during a business trip in Alaska. The person she?s made it didn?t. And now the dog is withered and had to be hospitalized. The furiousness that Sally feels in this scene starts from deep within her gut and comes from a long history of feeling let down, and disappointed by people that she thought that she could trust. But that?s not enough. Now you want to know about her trip to Alaska now, right?

Sally hated Alaska. It was during the winter, so the sun never rose. Or during the summer, so the sun never set. Either way, she didn?t get enough sleep, or she got depressed. (If you want to get really deep, you can Google ?Seasonal Affective Disorder?.)

What?s more: her supervisor has been out to get her since day one. He?d purposely given her the schedule from last year?s conference. Sally was constantly late. Or she found herself sitting in the meeting room for hours on end. This made Sally feel frustrated. She couldn?t understand why no one had shown up. Maybe everyone had agreed to change the times of the meetings when she came in late the first time and no one had bothered to tell her. She felt left out, and a bitter at the thought that her co-workers didn?t value her contributions to company they worked for. Her boss seemed disappointed that she had come in late.

But, after missing one more waiting, and catching the next one by waiting for two hours in the meeting room, she finally got a hold of an accurate schedule. She noticed hers' was completely different.

In first-person, Sally can only suspect that her supervisor thinks she?s trying to steal his job. But, in the third-person, the hedonistic nature of her supervisor can be fully explored. (He hated women after his mother left him when he was twelve. Since then, he?d had nothing but failed relationships with women. He was married once, but she left him because he was distant and abusive.) Furthermore, you can make them players in a power struggle between man and woman that exists everywhere in the world.

That?s why Sally?s furious. Not just because her friend let her dog waste away, but because she feels like her job might be withering away, too! Without that depth, Sally might just a well be a cardboard cut-out of Ricky Ricardo with a speech bubble saying, ?Luu-cy! You?ve got some ?splainin to do!?

. . . In feudal China.

Whether it?s to persuade someone to give them money, or to ease someone?s fears, every character has a motivation. Each character has a life outside of the small vignettes you allow the reader. You need to know that as the writer.

?Some people don?t get it.? Gabriel sighs and takes another drag from his cigarette. ?Maybe that?s why we find so many trite story lines on Nifty?.?

The sun has risen above the horizon, still smothered by the buildings surrounding my humble Vespa. Above is a patchwork of torn-cotton, blue, white and gold shapes. They seem pasted across the sky in the style of Kindergarten Art that?s so popular these days. A lot of times, in real-life, I wonder why it exists.

In stories, it?s easy to know. I created it for someone named Sally to appreciate at the end of the chapter; so she?ll stop thinking about her terrible time in Alaska, her back-stabbing supervisor, her untrustworthy friend, and her poor dog Chloe. In the end of the chapter, she?ll look toward the beautiful sunrise and look forward to the future. Somewhere, deep inside her, she?ll wonder if someone, something out there, had painted it for her. A deep calm will settle inside her, and she?ll trust that everything happens for a reason.

As I stand beside my Vespa, rolling the straps of my helmet between my fingers, looking forward toward the sun rise, I kind of feel the same way. But, just like Sally, I probably won?t know for sure until my story?s finished. For now, I?ll just take life one day at a time.

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Truly an interesting post that is worth thinking about at length. Thus, I may revisit this post several times as different thoughts pop into my head.

I think character development in a story stems from a place deep inside of the author. Even the most abusive of writers, and here I am thinking of Charles Burkowski, tend to hold to this rule: Writers inherently like people. Why take the time to write a story about a person you care nothing about? It would be a waste of everyone's time. The author must like the characters in the story, protagonist and antagonist alike. I have created characters who were thoroughly rotten people, but I never left them without a sense of humanity. This is a factor that goes into the development process. If you like the character, regardless of the role played in the tale, then you will invest the effort and time to add nuances that bring them to life.

Flannary O'Connor once said that she always wrote her work from the perspective of the character people would like least. Moreover, she was unrivaled in creating macbre characters that were engaging despite their horrendous flaws. She could make a cold-blooded murderer lovable or an old grandmother despicable. Despite the fact I am often disturbed by her stories, I find I am drawn to them. O'Connor cared about her characters, and it shows in the words. Hence, I tend to believe the first act in character creation is finding something you like about the person, regardless of the role s/he will play, and then adding to it.

You also hit upon a very salient point when you stated:

Whether it?s to persuade someone to give them money, or to ease someone?s fears, every character has a motivation. Each character has a life outside of the small vignettes you allow the reader. You need to know that as the writer.

I find I never sit to write a story unless I know the history of each character, even the tertiary ones, from birth to death. Since I know I am writing about a single slice of life, I find I have to know exactly where they began this journey and what it did to them when they reached the end. How did any one of them develop as a person? That is what I am trying to show in my work. Not to toot my own horn, but I really hit the mark in "Through Different Eyes" when I managed to show the change in the two lead characters, and they were living very different lives. I was also able to show the changes in the secondary and tertiary characters. For all my verbosity in commenting, you sum it up beautifully, Gabriel:

... give a character depth.


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I've gotta remember to read this one through when I can really put my mind on it. -- Gabe, that's a compliment, hidden within that I'm distracted and tired at the moment. It isn't often you find a forum post that requires some heavy duty thinking.

...a bit later...

OK, I ruminated a bit. Thinking, not cud-chewing.

Point the First:

Gabe, you said it was harder to develop characters and give them depth than to write scenic descriptions. By the way, those were some very nice scenery descriptions.

Did you notice though, that you gave the char. (yourself) some description and development within that. As a reader, we know you stop to appreciate the morning and notice all those details. We also see from it that you are restless and trying to solve a problem. And, well, we see that even in a quiet morning or evening scene, you have a thread of somber discontent in there, a little melancholy. Well, that goes with the artist's territory a lot, it seems. So we see how the narrator is reacting to the scenery and how he acts within it.

Point the Second:

Third person versus first person writing and whether third makes it easier to show everyone's full character:

That means first person forces you to reveal the narrating character's thoughts as he or she puts all the pieces together, which makes it useful for mysteries. The reader gets clues from how the narrator sees the others' expressions and their words.

With third person, you can get each character's view of every other character, or of certain characters, and how the current character views the situation. You get to find out what every character is thinking and feeling from the inside.

What I really admire is when someone writes each chracter well enough that they have differing viewpoints on things and may be going at cross purposes and misunderstanding each other before everything's said and done -- even the protagonists are having realistic differences. I don't mean everybody has to have huge fights and arguments, I just mean that they are all individuals and fully rounded, not just cardboard. For instance, if two friends in the story discuss something, or even argue about it, they're working out a problem in the story, and we readers see them as stronger characters and see their personalities as they have differing views and then resolve them or not.

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