Friday, October 7, 2011
Characters Must Not Always Be What They Seem
Before we get started, please watch the video above. I promise you won't regret it. You only have to watch about half to get my point.
It's not necessarily the best representation of what I want to talk about today, but it does illustrate quite well how pleasant it can be to be surprised. Never before (well okay, maybe Susan Boyle) have I seen a singer whose lungs, tone, passion, and presence so vastly defied his appearance and the first impression I'm willing to admit I judged him on.
People are like this. People are funny looking, irritating, mean, judgmental. They have all kind of flaws. Many of them aren't worth knowing, but most of them are, flawed as they may be.
We must make our characters equally as many-faceted.
I struggle with this myself, because I have a rather large cast in my novel, and there is very little space to give deep characterization to all the people in my story, but you'd be surprised how little can go a long way.
Dialog is a great tool for this. A tiny turn of phrase. Evidence that a character would be willing to interrupt a certain character, when they would never interrupt most others. Telling the truth. Lying.
In fact, I think that interaction between characters is the most important key to all of this. Everyone behaves differently, even if only slightly, depending on who is in the room. We worry what people think of us (or our confidence raises us above that), but we also think differently of everyone we worry will be judging us.
Put your characters in situations where what they think and feel about each other must be revealed, and hopefully one (or more) of them will end up doing something that surprises you, and will therefore surprise your reader.
And remember, in a book, unlike on TV, it doesn't always have to be a pleasant surprise. It just has to be compelling, and believable.
How do you keep your characters from falling flat? From being thin and predictable? Do you write secrets and surprises into them ahead of time, or do you allow them to be revealed to you along the journey?