Beanery Online Literary Magazine

June 23, 2008

DEVELOPING CHARACTERS IN NOVEL WRITING

According to David Poyer, author of four million copies of thirteen published books in print in 1993 and numerous ones since then, one of the most challenging aspects of writing is character creation—a process central to every length and genre of fiction. And, I might interject, in any other writing that involves persons—albeit, in characters based on living persons, the character is developed differently.
 
In the historic romance novel I’m writing, my characters are given. The main character in the first part of my novel is a French woman named Madame Rosalie de la Val, who spent little time in Lamoine, Maine, but left a lasting legacy there.

To develop her character, I’ve had to take tidbits from numerous historic documents and journals. For example, she is an independent land speculator who has no money. Research shows that most of the French who were doing land speculation in America in the 1780-1790s were business-connected males. A few land speculators worked independently. All were male. What does this say about my character? What does it say when throughout the literature she is referred to as Madame de la Val?

Poyer supports my contention that the character development process applies to other than novel characters, stating the same techniques “can introduce real people in interviews and personality pieces.”

Poyer states that the characters carry out the action proper and usually are the narrators who tell us the story. He suggests putting yourself in the position of a personnel employee and asking: “What is the ‘job description’ for the fictional characters?” Writing an ad for this “employee” (as well as for the side “characters”) “should sensitize you to the kind of person who eventually, when he or she walks in, is going to be right for your tale.”

Where do the characters come from? In my case, as I stated, they are a given. Poyer said he’s discovered four sources for fictional characters that are mentioned again and again—people the authors knew; newspapers or histories, or word of mouth — in other words, real people, but not personally known to the authors; adapting other fictional characters and lastly, made-up or ORIGINAL characters.

In my case, I’ve had to decide how to develop real-life characters with no information. One character, Louis des Isles, will epitomize the man who lives a life of quiet desperation. Another, Mary Googins, is a fun-loving, celebratory, faith-filled person. In these two instances I intend to pattern them on real life persons I know who have the same personalities. This will enable me to maintain consistency of personality and will provide me someone to bounce situations off of when I am uncertain how a person of that personality type will respond in a crisis situation.

Since character is so intertwined with plot, theme, and setting, and since all four will evolve in the course of writing, your understanding of the character will deepen as you write. Recycle these deepened perceptions into the earlier parts of the book. Don’t worry if the character, when you start out, seems thin, or unconvincing. Get the story down the first time through, and rework with each rewrite. Little by little the character will deepen.

To read Poyer’s in depth article, click on http://www.esva.net/~davidpoyer/cdf1.htm.

In a different vein, Charlotte Dillon, in a piece titled Building Fictional Characters, presents three concrete methods to add personality and uniqueness to character development: the idea that perfection doesn’t exist; use of a tag word or action tag, and choosing a name for the character.

We’ve all read about villains in society—those persons who commit heinous crimes—yet their neighbors, friends and family describe them as caring, helpful individuals. Dillon agrees, noting that “No one is perfect, and that goes for the characters in our stories.” Heroes have weaknesses, and villains have a soft spot—perhaps for his pet dog. This is what makes the character real and memorable, breaks him away from being made of cardboard.

Tags—verbal or action—make even minor characters stand out and can reveal personality. It’s something no other character in the story says or does. Seeing the tag identifies who is speaking without labeling the speaker. A particular word or chewing gum could serve this trick.

When our children came into our family we found it most difficult to pick a name. Names give others an impression of who the character is. For example, referring to my main character as most of the references do, Madame de la Val, tells you something about her. What image do you have of this character? Would it be different if she were referred to as Rosie? What about Rosalie? How do you want readers to picture your character?

To read more on this topic click on http://www.charlottedillon.com/characters.html
Dillon provides a free, really detailed chart you can use.  It is copyrighted by me, but you may copy and paste it into Word or another writing program, or print it out, for your own use only, in building your characters. That way you can type in needed info, delete sections you don’t want to fill in, or even add some more lines.  If you wish to share the chart in a group meeting or newsletter, please make sure that my name and link are included.

Thank you for visiting the Beanery Online Literary Magazine. The members of the Beanery Writers Group welcome your comments on their posts.

For additional reading:

BLACK FLIES AND OTHER INSECTS: Then and Now

SEVENTY YEARS OF LOVE

PEOPLE: TIZIANIA BARONIO

THE HOLOCAUST STORY OF A TEENAGE VICTIM (Part 6)

YARD SALES UNSETTLE ME

PERTAINING TO THE SPIRIT

JOURNALIST ETHICS CONCERNING THE RECEIPT OF GIFTS

DAVID Part 1 of a 10 Part Romance Story

DAVID Part 2 of a 10 Part Romance Story

DAVID Part 3 of a 10 Part Romance Story

DAVID Part 4 of a 10 Part Romance Story

 

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1 Comment »

  1. […] DEVELOPING CHARACTERS IN NOVEL WRITING We’ve all read about villains in society—those persons who commit heinous crimes—yet their neighbors, friends and family describe them as caring, helpful individuals. Dillon agrees, noting that “No one is perfect, and that goes for the … […]

    Pingback by DEVELOPING CHARACTERS IN NOVEL WRITING at All 4 One — June 23, 2008 @ 5:25 am | Reply


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