I read a post by Lynette Noni about character development. The way Lynette talks about her characters is charming and endearing. It makes me think of my characters and the antics they get themselves into.
While writing a few days ago, something happened to my protagonist. I think I was more upset about it than he was. I was indignant and close to tears when Caspar said, “Dude. Calm down. This is life. This is high school.”
“Well, obviously I didn’t go to that type of high school.”
“Yeah. Obviously you had a different experience growing up than I did.”
And that’s when it hit me. Two things, actually. The first is that I was having a conversation with a fictional character. Perhaps I’m crazy (yes. That’s beside the point)? The second is that I’m not “developing” my character. He’s developing himself. He’s taking control of his actions and responses and decisions, and I’m just on the sideline watching him play out his story. I’m humbled that Caspar wants to tell his story to me.
This is taking a weird turn, so let’s get back on track.
Something that deterred me from writing for several years was the thought that I wouldn’t have enough imagination to create a world, develop believable characters, and get them out of sticky conflict when it’s sure to arise. And a lot of my first writing didn’t even have conflict because I didn’t want to deal with it. #avoider
But in my experience of writing a novel I’m learning that the story, though started by me, is not mine. I am just the vehicle through which the story is being told. If I chose not to write this story, I’m sure Caspar would have found another author to tell it to.
Anne Lamott said that the best thing to do for character development is to stick them into a room with other characters and listen to their conversation. The exercise is to write pages and pages of conversation to see how each character responds. Is he full of himself? Is she a brat? What happens when his archenemy makes a pass at his girl? The next step of the exercise is to not use any of the pages for the actual book. Well, maybe not. But a huge chunk of all those beautiful words you’ve worked all day on are not going to make the cut.
That’s the part that kills me. I want every word I write to count. Unrealistic, but I’m still growing as a writer.
I also have a tendency to help my characters avoid conflict. I’m learning that this is not conducive to my character’s story, because it’s turning into my story. I’m a good storyteller because I like telling other’s stories (sometimes I’ll tell my listeners that it happened to me just to make it a little more interesting). Once I tell my protagonist that he can’t make this or that decision, or say these or those words, he turns into me. And that’s rather dull.
Character development is less overwhelming now that I know I don’t have to make everything up on my own, but at the same time it’s more overwhelming because I have a responsibility to my characters to accurately depict who they are.
Image Credit: BidBeat