This weekend I have been world building, and I plan a looong post on that for Wednesday. Other than that, I baked fresh bread myself for the first time (although my sister actually made the dough - thanks, Victoria!) and joined Twitter, which quite frankly terrifies me. Everything moves *so* fast, and I'm not sure if it's cool to reply to the tweets of people you follow even if they don't follow you. Argh. Hopefully I'll get the hang of it. You can follow my babbling in the new Twitter panel down there on the left - my user name is @ZMarriott.
Right, on with the reader question. Regular blog commentator Isabel says:
...my problem is with my main character. I’ve been having some trouble with her character development. I think about her a certain way, but she just won’t cooperate. I know this may sound like a good thing: that my character is so real that I have no control over her, but it’s not like that. She just doesn’t have enough depth. Do you know this feeling? That every other character seems so real, and yet when it comes to your procrastinator, you’re hopeless? I hope it’s not just me who feels this way. I’ve been making some progress on her development today, but I just don’t know. Is this unusual? Shouldn’t my main character be the one that is easiest to make come to life?
Oh, I know where you're coming from Isabel. Because of course it seems logical that the main character, the character through whose point of view you tell the story, would be the most vivid and real person in the story. It's all about them, after all. You're in their head. How much realer than they be, right?
WRONG! Wrong, wrong, oh so very wrong. It's *because* you're in their head that the POV character will often be the last person that you get to know. The main character is so busy trying to understand the other characters, observe the world that they're living in, and survive the plot - and most important of all, interpret all these impressions and all this information for the reader - that quite often they end up being just a cardboard cut-out through the eyes of which you, the author, peer at the progress of the story.
I've become resigned to the fact that I usually don't really get to actually know my main character until about a third of the way through the story. I mean, I try to get to know them. I think deeply about who they are, where they come from, what drives them (as per this post). But a collection of traits, preferences and backstory does not make a coherant, living character. It just makes a nice list. Only by writing the story, living through the events with the main character, allowing them to react to people and plot twists, will they take on the spark of life. When you begin to see them react to things in ways you didn't expect, when you start to really suffer with them, that's when you'll love them as a person instead of an idea.
That, incidentally, is why I've gotten resigned to chucking away the first eight to ten chapters of any first draft that I complete, and re-writing them from scratch. By the time I finish a manuscript I know the main character so well that those first chapters seem utterly wooden and false. But assuming that you'd like to speed the process up and get more comfy with your POV character right now, here are some helpful character building tips:
- Write a monologue from the main character's POV. Pick another character that your POV person feels strongly about, whether that feeling is love or hate. Then, using dialogue only, let your main character rant to that character. Let them explain their feelings and actions, complain, get angry, offer excuses and justifications, spill their guts, demand that the other character explain themselves and generally say all the things that have been simmering under the surface. This can help bring their inner voice and their inner life into sharper focus for you.
- Switch your writing style. Are you writing in first person? Switch to third person for a chapter. If you're writing in third switch to first. Or try writing from the POV of a different character, looking at your main character from the outside. You'll see and experience the character in a different way and this can offer useful insights.
- Write a dream or a nightmare. If your character were to have the most blissful dream ever, what would it be? What nightmare would make them wake up screaming? What images would haunt or comfort them in their sleep when they're the most vulnerable? This can show you who they really are inside.
Hope this is helpful, Isabel. As always, any more writing/publishing related questions can go in the comments or be emailed to me through my profile. Read you on Wednesday!