Scenery and characters—for me, writing’s “Holy Grail!”[i] And luckily, several weeks back, Writer in Residence Gayle Bartos-Pool wrote an excellent post on Character Arcs, which sent me down a writing road side trip—reviewing how I’ve been developing my characters for readers to see, feel, and know them. Something in my past writing, I’ve just done—and not really thought about—can I do better?
I should have been paying more attention to my character development, especially, since as a reader, if I don’t like, can’t see, or don’t identify with a character (or set of characters), I don’t enjoy, and often don’t continue reading a book. Shut it closed, and move on to the next one in my stack. So my thinking after Gayle’s post is/has been from a reader’s perspective. Learning how to do something is indeed very important, but figuring out what you should be doing in the first place, is even harder, I think.
So thinking and looking back, I’ve unconsciously been using—first a characters words (through dialogue/interactive and solo), second, what they are thinking (in narrative exposition parts), and then what they actually do (storytelling and action bits). Sometimes, their words, thoughts, and deeds are contradictory, which can also define their character.
But that’s not enough.
For example, my latest protagonist, Leiv Everett Rhodes, doesn’t always communicate what he’s thinking via what he says. I’m hoping what he “does” are his written character-defining moments. So, I did some prior writing scanning[ii] And no, I have not adequately developed Leiv enough, on any level for a reader to say, “Wow, I like this guy a lot.”
So, what am I going to do? For starters, the “physicality” of the man is not clearly defined. Which is sort of on purpose—giving a vagueness that gives a reader an outline to fill in from people they’ve met. I’m also going to have him do more things, and how he does them hopefully will give some likeable glimpses into him. For sure, I know exactly how Leiv Everett Rhodes looks in my eyes, but not sure if my readers do. Although I don’t think I want a reader to see “my” Leiv in their eyes, but a Leiv they like looking at. Another tightrope!
I’m going to stop here, because I have more thinking to do—but here’s where I’m ending up with this post—it’s not enough to tell a good story, indeed, I think writers owe their readers to be taken away into another world and be led there by characters they want to follow. And self-critique, no matter how difficult, can’t be replaced by editors, beta-readers, writing groups, friends… And for sure, rereading and rewriting our own work, trying our best to be “outside” our creation is very difficult.
When I read back over this post, it sounds rather simple-minded and straightforward. Yet, as a reader, I’ve closed too many books–not because of plot or lack of an interesting story premise—but because I either actively disliked—or at a minimum, was not grabbed by the characters.[iii]
Maybe, I’m just becoming a grumpy-reading person, and at an age where I’m not that easily pleased?(smile) even by myself. Gosh, I hope not…
Happy Writing and Reading Trails!
[i] A rather grandiose statement, but I liked the sound of it! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holy_Grail
[ii] Never before reread my old books, just looked up sometimes what I said about a situation or person!
[iii] In getting involved in Jackie Houchin’s “spine stacking” from last week, realized how many books I didn’t complete reading! Many closed early on.
9 thoughts on “Words, Thoughts, and Deeds”
Good post, Madeline. (jill’s next week has almost the same title!) Dialogue, musings, and actions. Yes I see how all three are necessary to have readers identify with your characters. Dialogue & actions can be deceptive without the character’s inner thoughts (which might be radically different, as per a villain). But only dialogue and thoughts can keep a character as a statue, which readers might pass over without a second look or care. And musings with actions might be okay for readers, but entirely unfair to the other characters in your book.
Frankly, my dear, I think you do it all stupendously!
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thank you for the kind words, Jackie! And yes, on how all three elements at least need to be there, or who cares? Still thinking about this character development issue…I don’t think it’s super easy to really grab a reader in today’s world…
I have shut a few books when I really didn’t like someone’s main character. As a reader I want to stay with a protagonist if I wouldn’t mind having them come visit me in my house. After all, as readers, we do invite these folks into our lives. So I shape characters, at least the heroes, into people we like to be around. The bad guys are left to their fate.
I know just what you mean, Mad. If I can’t relate in some way to the characters, I put the book aside. I don’t always have to really like them – but have to be interested in how they are developing. I stopped reading the Agatha Raisin books because I found Agatha totally unlikable and unrelatable. So I was delighted to see how her character had been developed in the TV series. She was still pushy/arrogant/bossy – but they had added a vulnerability and sense of humor to her, which was a great combination. Life’s too short to keep reading about someone you are not enjoying – and there are too many other wonderful books to devour. Thanks Mad – great post.
Oh, Rosemary, I thought the same things about Agatha Raisin! And yes, yes, yes–life is too short. Definitely going to work on character development.
I must agree, having put down countless books because I found the characters shallow, unlikable or unrelatable. I doubt a universally beloved character exists (though some have come close), but if we create ones that appeal to us they may appeal to some, if not all, readers.