August 22, 2013

Character Development - 2

Dear M,

Today I want to talk more about Character development. There is so much more to know, to understand. It is one thing to learn, it is quite another to implement. But I think there is a way to do it, though it isn't easy. Believe me, the effort we spend on fine tuning our characters is totally worth it.

Suppose I say that my protagonist is a thirty-two year old Software Engineer in Bangalore. Considering the number of software engineers in Bangalore, there is nothing unique, nothing specific, nothing eye-catching about this man.

Now I add that since he is basically from Chandigarh, he understands very little of the South Indian mannerisms and language. I also note the fact that since he is six foot two, he has to bend low to kiss his much shorter girlfriend. His manager does not think very highly of him because he is a Literature graduate and not an engineer; the manager tends to be skeptical of his talents. But our man had become interested in software development after graduation or during his graduate days, and had worked his a$$ off to learn the basics. He was determined to prove his manager wrong. His parents had divorced when he was six, and in Chandigarh he lived with his Mother and her unmarried sister.

Now see how much you know about our protagonist. He was totally grey when we began - a mere Software Engineer in Bangalore. A drop of colour here, and a drop there, and he is developing right before our eyes. There is a whole lot we could add to him. We could expand his geography (Chandigarh to Bangalore), his history (his past, stories about his divorced parents, his school days, the influence his unmarried Aunt had on him, etc), his physics (physical appearance, the scar on his forehead, the gentleness in his eyes, the almost imperceptible limp on his left foot), his chemistry (relationships), his mathematics (his attitude to things), his language (his accent, his culture) his friends, his hobbies, we could talk about everything. See how our man has grown.

He is by no means perfect, because no one is. He gets impatient too soon, he has a short temper, he loses his heart to every girl he meets, he shouts when he is agitated, he is superstitious to an alarming extent, he is obsessed with his past, he hates exercise, he smiles too less, he talks too much - you name it. (Look at him through the eyes of his girl and she'll show you what his negatives are!)

And we haven't even given him a name yet. A name would immediately place him in a certain position - with respect to religion, caste, culture, land. For instance, if he is a Rao, I could immediately talk about how they were originally from Andhra. If he is a Muslim, how they were affected by the partition. Maybe he is a half-Hindu. See where that takes you.

Why are these important? Because our man's traits are defined by everything he or his ancestors have gone through. As simple as that. He is this because his people were this. He behaves thus because his past was thus. He believes in that because he has seen a lot of that. He is kind to them because he was once one of them. He hates those because he was forced into those.

There is one more very important item in Character development, Quirks. I will talk about that soon. That could be one of the most difficult ones for me. That part takes more effort in defining our character, but if we get that right, our characters would jump out of the book and perform right before the reader.


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