December 27, 2013

Writing a story just to show the character

Dear M,

Character development is a powerful thing. It takes up a significant amount of our time, but if we have done our homework right, the results are amazing. Here is a character from a recent book I read.

He smokes (and loves) cigarettes. 
He hasn't drunk a drop of alcohol in the last ten years, and in the course of the story, takes a swig just because there was a reason to celebrate. 
He plays a musical instrument, when he is happy or sad. But at the most miserable time of his life, he could not.
He is a very kind man. 
He despises injustice, and would stand up against it. But there were times when he could not, because he was afraid of what would happen to him. One time, he lost his control, and had to pay dearly for his mistake.

The man's character was developed in front of our eyes, over the pages. At the start we only had a feeling that he sounds like a good man.

Sometimes we write a story because we want to show what this kind of character is capable of. The entire story is a character. It is not a plot or a sequence of events that show something. It is how our character develops, what he does, what he is capable of, what his weaknesses are, how he changes. The story is secondary, because it is only a ruse to show us the man. Plots are thrown against him so that the reader can see how he will react.

I don't know if I make any sense. It makes perfect sense in my mind, though.


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