Tuesday, June 19, 2012

CHARACTER - Remembering the Basics

I've been working on a new little story. Something fun and a little different - sorry, no details yet. I'm obsessively secretive about works-in-progress.

But eventually I do share a draft with my agent, who always gives really useful notes.

Today I was grappling with one note that I couldn't quite get to grips with:

"Bring out the characters more."

That's quite a big note. It's a huge note. It's a COLOSSAL NOTE. And I couldn't immediately see a way to fix it. Then, after a hot shower and a big steak and a little clear-thinking, I went through all of my options and eliminated them one by one. I was left with the basics. What brings out character? What does it even MEAN to 'bring out' a character?

I thought I'd share where I reached today in case other writers out there are in a similar sticky bit.

There are ways of telling your readers more about your characters. You can describe them, physically or emotionally, for example. But TELLING is useless. It has no power. It feels random, it is usually either much too vague or much too specific and is very dull to read.

So show it. But how do you SHOW something that 'brings out' the character? Suddenly we're stuck in world of writer-ly jargon. It's hard to pin down what all of that means.

In the end I went back to the basics of storytelling. What is the stuff that MAKES a character?

All together now: CONFLICT. I'd forgotten it for a few hours, but once I remembered it (about half way through the steak) it was all so obvious again.

In a story we only really get to know who a character is by watching them respond to a problem. WATCHING them, remember - not being TOLD how they respond. The writer has to show it.

And at last I knew what it meant to 'bring out the character' - it means TURN UP THE HEAT. Increase the conflict. Raise the stakes. Make the problem worse. Then show the character trying to handle that.

THAT'S where we get to see the real character.

1 comment:

Preetam said...

Hey Joe

I started reading Jimmy Coates series back in 2009-2010.

Sadly in India only the first 4 books are available. I can't tell you HOW MUCH I want to read the rest of the books. I loved the series sooo much.

I've been searching and waiting for over a year now but to no avail. Will Jimmy Coates Book #5 and above never be available in India?

A genetically engineered fan (:P)
Preetam Nath