Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Character Opinion?

How well do you know your main character? Some articles I've read suggest actives such as interviewing your characters to find out the very things that make them tick. The theory is that if you know the answers to questions that are never even asked in your story, you'll have a better grasp on how they will react to any given situation the plot may throw at them.

To some degree, I believe this has merit. Though I admit the idea of staging a mock interview with a fictional character in my head seems a bit on the crazy side. Though one might argue that to be a writer, a person must have in their possession a certain degree of insanity. Even so, it seems enough for me to simply ask the question. If you want to put it in crazy terms, I suppose it would be like asking myself the same questions about a friend. "How does so-and-so feel about racial equality?" -- They never say anything remarkably racist, but they do come from the South. Is he the type to silently oppose, or has her learned that it's best to mind one's own business unless a life is in danger? What does it take to make a good man do nothing? Is it possible that perhaps he was in this situation before? Maybe he interfered and was then chided for getting involved with an insinuation that he'd only made it worse. How can you show that in your story without dwelling on the previous event? Is it even necessary to mention said event in your story at all? Well, I suppose that depends on the context of where your story lies.

Just as with movies, certain scenes, themes, and events must be cut if the primary theme is to flourish. But, while the rest of the world may never know about that moment... You do. You know how your character would react because you've become familiar with their story. And isn't that how good stories work, with the successful convergence of each character's story into one cohesive tale?

Each of our characters should chose the path that they have been conditioned in life to choose; by their environment, the culmination of their choices, their interaction with your other characters... Unless they have a flare for uncertainty, or there is an understandable conflict that the reader can associate with, your readers should be able to count on the choices that they feel your character will make -- which doesn't necessarily mean that they have to agree that it's the best choice of action. It just has to make sense. After all, flawed characters often make the most interesting stories. And really, if you can pull it off with the utmost of subtlety, there can be a message conveyed by those mistakes, though there is a fine line between subtle and preaching.

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3 comments:

Jim Murdoch said...

When I look at the main protagonists in my four books I can honestly say that I don’t know anything more about them than I put on the page. This was also true of the writer Beckett. In a letter to his American publisher he wrote: "had a highly unsatisfactory interview with SIR Ralph Richardson who wanted the low-down on Pozzo, his home address and curriculum vitae, and seemed to make the forthcoming of this and similar information the condition of his condescending to illustrate the part of Pozzo. Too tired to give satisfaction. I told him that all I knew about Pozzo was in the text, that if I had known more I would have put it in the text, and that this was true also of the other characters which I trust puts an end to that star."

That said, I have a lot mulling around in my head at the moment when it comes to the two protagonists in my current book. But it’s all very fluid. Once I put the words on the page then those possibilities will become facts. I did sit down and produce a timeline, when people were born, married, died etc and the times of the events in the book but I’m not sure I’ll actually use any of them. I just need to make sure that everyone is the age they’re supposed to be –ish.

Some authors produce whole ‘bibles’ for their characters. TV writers certainly have to because other people will be taking over the writing duties. How much you feel you need to will, I guess, depend on how much you can keep in your head. I think that’s one of the reasons why I’m struggling so much these days because I can’t keep it all in my head like I used to and I’m a bit stubborn about, what feels like to me, wasting time writing notes.

Brady said...

I agree with you, Jim, I find it hard to see myself writing up gobs and gobs of background information for my characters that I'll never use. As long as I can boil down what I know about my characters into the heart of what would and would not be a natural decision for them in various circumstances, I guess I'm happy. If events in their background are going to coincide with events that are important to other characters, well I might even jot down a rough time line as well.

I find that I really only write down these things if they hit me on a whim and I sense the danger of possibly forgetting. But, I do recognize that it may be quite necessary for other writers to collect a lot more material than I do.

Thanks for your input!

Magic Quill said...

Hi dude,
i came across you on twitter. Looking to conncet with other creative writers. I am trying to write my first crime novel.
will follow your work.
Magic Quill