Concepts versus Characters
I’ve been doing some research on character development. Obviously because as a writer I want to continue learning, but also because I see it as a weaker point in my writing. Sometimes characters just aren’t clear to me. I’ve tried character fact sheets, bubble charts, interviews, but sometimes you begin a novel with someone you barely know and though they grow and solidify, there are just other areas where they remain stubbornly out of focus. There has to be some other techniques out there!
And while I was looking I stumbled upon this article You and Your Characters written by James Patrick Kelly. Though it is from 1991, I think it is very relevant today. It seems like the debate of how important characters are over a great concept has been raging for some time.
As a “young” author, I know it is important to go for the original idea, something startling and catching. But there is so much more to a great novel than a good idea. Characters make us care, or don’t. They sell the idea.
I recently emailed Aidan Doyle who caught my attention after his story Hokkaido Green was published over at Strange Horizons. He said he had attended a Clarion South writing workshop that taught him to “think of an interesting character and start the story where they are in trouble. Give them a difficult choice to make and then end the story when there is some kind of resolution.”
So since tackling a novel length piece I’ve already written seems a bit of a challenge, I’ve written two short stories over the last weeks. One came about after hunting for a story to go with a single sentence that just begged to begin a tale. I went with the third idea I tossed around. I liked the character and it developed from there – and quickly. The other was an idea I had batting around my brain for about 6 months and finally wrote – tediously because the idea held sway and not the characters.
The two writing experiences were totally opposite. One story continues to live in my head. I know their future, their past, their needs and wishes. The other . . . its a good idea. I think it will take more work to “polish” it up for potential submission . . . somewhere!
I thought I swayed from idea stories and that my characters were what moved the story line. Even though I have a science degree, I shy away from science fiction – or at least robots and such. I’m more Avatar than Asimov – it is an ecology degree after all! But I see after this test, I really have been an idea writer. The plot or hook has been the mover and the characters were following a set path without much leeway to get into trouble on their own.
So now . . . how to tackle Born of Water and give the characters the story. I think I’m starting to have a few ideas . . . . 😉