Gee, Aren’t You Quite the Character?
For some reason when I first started writing, character development was a stumbling point. Well good character development anyway! I tried everything to get to know my characters: info sheets to bubble charts to interviews. I had compiled lots of information like a detective (or really good stalker). But information on habits, traits, and background does not make a person. I really felt my characters were a little flat and overlapped quite a bit, like I’d used the same cardboard for all of them.
I decided I needed to do something different.
I was ready to act out scenes to really experience what my characters were going through (okay, what I was doing to them). But, it turns out, it is difficult to fake the ability to control water or fire. So, I went for the next best thing, which was a story in their voice from they day before Born of Water begins. Written in first person, they let me see the world through the eyes of the character. I learned so much more than a flow chart ever could have told me.
I realized Ty has a strained relationship with his father and that he left for his apprenticeship late because his father had an accident. He was needed at home. Lavinia, Ty’s sister, is a dreamer, not seeing the reality before her. Ria is scared to death and had been for almost her whole life. She is beautiful but believes herself ill fated, while Lavinia is her good luck charm.
What is more, I realized every character saw the world differently.
When writing, the author sees where the story is going and knows the impacts to each character. Novels are usually written in third person, so slipping into the isolated experience of one character can be tricky at times. But that to me has become the key. Tension is so much easier to build when a character doesn’t know everything, or believes something that is incorrect! That is only possible when a strong character POV shines through.
And somewhere in the midst of living the novels as one of the characters, without knowing what was going to happen, I also realized that with every change of POV the language should change too. Ria doesn’t know anything about sailing. She wouldn’t refer to a line, shroud, or sheet. She wouldn’t use the words port or starboard. Ty and Lavinia certainly would. And Niri is educated. Her word pacing is slower, more reasoned and logical. While Ty, well he is usually angry and spitting phrases.
Is this too in depth, worrying about word choice and rhythm?
I don’t think so. I keep high standards (and at least it has kept me from having a seance to channel a character!).
My writing is still evolving, but I see each character as adding a different texture and color to the narration. It isn’t just dialogue use that shapes a character, but what they take note of, what smells they react to, and where their thoughts wander. Of course, I don’t want such points to be obnoxious, but when done well, I think this is another facet to producing a truly exceptional bit of story telling!