Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Character Development - Who You Love to Love, Hate, & What Bugs

As I muddle through the errant files of The Brothers and try to keep my rhythm going with Lovers and Rivals, I thought I would share some character thoughts with everyone.

A person could say that a writer is successful when a character annoys you, except, of course, if it is the main character. Your main character needs to be someone that most people will like, root for, and enjoy as we see their transformation from one part of the story to the next. You don't have to have a "hero" as your main character, they can, as in the case of many popular movies and books, have an "anti-hero." They don't have to be successful at everything, but they do have to somehow speak to the human experience - I need to see myself in the character. And then, I need to see them grow.

Let me give you an example. I love and I mean, LOVE Daughter of The Forest. It is possibly my favorite fantasy book of all time, unless of course, I went with another of the series (which are all good). The main character, Sorcha, is mature even at the beginning of the book. We follow her journey through a series of horrible experiences. As we watch her, her perspective about the world broadens, and she affirms her place in it. It is an artfully written series, with strong female characters with whom I can identify. The women are talented, strong, and often end up in strange situations for their place in time because of their independence. And of course, they interact with the supernatural along the way. I can safely say, I LOVE the main characters in these books. We would be friends. I would take them on double dates.

Other stories leave me feeling like the characters are flat. In Jack of Shadows, the first of that author's novels, the characters seem wooden, forced, and we have little information about them. There is transformation, but we didn't know much about the characters in the first place, so we don't care as much. Granted, The Great Book of Amber is much more interesting and well done, and I think worth a read (so don't write Roger off without taking a gander!).

Then of course, there are characters that are in between. They are developed, I can identify with pieces of them, but they annoy the shit out of me. Take Bella Swan from the Twilight series. OH-MY-GOD CAN SHE WHINE ANY MORE?!?! Most of the books I wanted to physically take her out and slap her twenty or so times. Frequently I had to put down the books because I was so annoyed with her. Literally, I only read the last book because I wanted to see the movie, where the actress is slightly less annoying, although her cadence still bugs.

There are other characters I can't like, such as the infamous Holden Caufield, who again, needs more than a wake up call.

Of course, some people might like Bella. They might not be annoyed with her "woe-as-me-helpless-damsel-two-hot-guys-wanna-do-me" act. Some people might like Holden, despite the fact that he could have anything he wanted and he was still a complete screw-up. Maybe.

The question is, do you want characters that people love to hate or just plain love or only sympathize with? No matter where you come down on the spectrum of reader affection for your character, you must give your reader something about them. They should somehow connect with the character. With Holden, for example, even though I think it would be best if he didn't exist, I know him. I know rich kids who had everything and squandered it because maybe their parents didn't love them enough, weren't there, or led horrible examples.

In my own book, you are quickly drawn into Khloe's perspective. She thinks she's average, but she never stays anywhere for any length of time. She chooses to block out the world because of this. She is rootless. We get that in the first few pages. A lot of people feel that way in high school - isolated, different, and maybe not as good as they wish they could be. Then, it changes. Someone (or in this case, several someones) takes an interest in her, and her life gets turned upside down.

Think about the characters you love, hate, bug, or whatever. Why do you feel that way about them? How do you want your readers to feel about your characters and why? This will really help you as you explore your story and develop your leading lady or man.

Personally, Khloe is my little sister. I love her to death, but sometimes she can be a little dense.

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