August 21, 2013

Character Development - 1

Dear M,

There is this dicey topic I want to talk about today, but I am not sure if I am up to it. The subject is Character Development. I feel jittery whenever I hear those terms. I don't think I have mastered it yet, but if I talk about it, maybe it will become clearer in my mind.

As a writer, one of my regrets is that I do not have a literature background. It didn't interest me at the time, otherwise nothing could have stopped me from heading that way. As it is, my focus and priorities were elsewhere, and I do not regret the path I chose (for it took me places where I would not have gone otherwise) though I would have been happier if literature was interlaced in it somehow. On the other hand, I am also pleased about my lack of literary learning. Because secretly I am proud of the hills and valleys I have trudged to master some of those literary lessons. Not that I have mastered all of them, but at least I am on the track. I am also painfully aware that there are so many more pearls of literary wisdom evading my eyes.

Anyway, in those years after I took writing seriously, one of the challenges dangling before my eyes was Character Development. I came across that phrase everywhere, every writing website and book in this world wanted to teach me about it. But however much I read, I could not understand it. I understood something, but I didn't know what I understood. Or how I could implement it in my writing.

Once I asked someone about it - someone who was into literature, but was not a fiction writer as far as I knew. I asked her what it meant when you said, a character was rounded, or flat, or three-dimensional, or linear? She said it was basically the way the person, the character, responded to situations. How they changed in your story. It kind of made sense to me, but I was not satisfied. Surely there was more to it.

I do have a better idea now. The best place to find answers (provided you know the questions) is in a good author's books. Which takes us back to the literature education - where, analysing authors and their writing is an important part of the learning. Since I had no other option, I took to these authors and tried to understand the magic they weaved with their characters. They way they presented them to us. They way they shaded and coloured and explained them to us. They way they developed them.

She was right, the way a person responds is about how well you have presented your character. And how predictable he or she is. And how they change with the circumstances, how they are forced out of their mould. That is one part of it.

Like how a King who has a stammer, who prefers to keep away from the limelight, learns to speak confidently in public. Like a con man who liked nothing better than to con people and who always managed to escape from the tightest situations finally decides that he wanted to live an honest life.Or a girl who had always been quiet and cowardly, grows up to be the woman who leads a group of people towards a cause.

But there is more to it. Character development involves history, geography, physics, chemistry, mathematics and everything. I will tell you more about it tomorrow.


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