Characters Move Plot

Posted: February 5, 2013 in Writing
Tags: ,

One of my weaknesses as a writer is character development. I don’t know if this is something that other writers struggle with, but it has been one for me.

I’m getting better, though. The characters in Apocalypse are more fleshed out than in previous books I’ve written, and I’m trying to find that happy balance between action and getting to know the characters.

But sometimes, one of the things I miss out on is character development through action.

When I write, I don’t really think in terms of “what can I do to develop this character?” It’s more organic for me. It’s more like, a situation arises, or one character does something to another one, and I think, “What would my character do, given this situation?” It’s like I’m stepping in that character’s shoes for a moment, taking on all who they are, and going from there.

In a sense, I am all of my characters. After all, I created them. They exist in my head, and in the head of anyone who reads about them. If there’s anything I’ve learned about people in general it’s that they are complicated. In the end, they are out for themselves. Each one thinks they are the main character of their own drama. A story is not all about the main character, although the book itself might be centered around him, or her.

Characters do not willingly give up power to each other. They have their own agendas and goals, and only help the main character if their goals line up with his or hers.

No character is perfect, either. They have bad as well as good. Thinking of the book I’m writing on, Alex, the main character is innocent and good – but these are also his weaknesses, and without his friends, he wouldn’t survive long.

Makara is tough, but she is also harsh. She does not trust easily, or at all, and she doesn’t want to consider the deep questions. She is a woman of action, who as long as she has a singular goal she can fight toward, she can forget everything else.

Samuel is idealistic, strong, and a natural leader. He can also be blind to the needs of others as he focuses on getting the main mission done. Of all the characters, Samuel is so far the least realized because he has had so little page time – though he will play a big part in book two.

And there are other characters as well coming on the stage – and seeing them interact with their own goals, motivations, and selfish ambitions has turned his apocalypse team into a powder keg, with its own internal conflicts to deal with if they are ever to complete their mission. They have a long way to go, however, and they haven’t even gotten started on their journey yet!

I just passed ten thousand words this morning, realizing that characters are the reason we read books – not genre, a cool cover, or whatever. These things help, but when it gets down to it, we are just addicted to story – and you don’t have a story unless you have at least one character that wants something, and something else that prevents them from getting it.

Characters are always the movers of plot. There might be something outside their control that influences the plot (like the weather, or a random death, or some other catastrophe (or perhaps something not so catastrophic)), but in the end, it’s the character’s decision that causes the story to move forward toward its resolution – and sometimes the resolution is the non-resolution.

Anyway, that’s my rant on characters for now. I’ve run out of time to write, but I will probably revisit the topic later.

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