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!
[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.