On Character Development: What was the thinking behind that?

We all want engaging characters who will grab the attention of our readers and entice them to keep reading.  Advice abounds. Books have been written, blogs posted, lists compiled - all to aide in the development of believable protagonists and antagonists (and secondary characters).

Many lists start with basics - the physical attributes of the character - name, age, how they dress, 'quirky tick'. Other recommendations encourage us to delve into their background - where do they live? Where were they born? What is their vocation? Childhood, friends and family relationships can all help mold the character - either heroine or villian. All of the above can effect how a character will react to the various conflicts writers throw at them.

One writing mantra that is constantly drummed into my brain is:  use active not passive writing. Our characters must do things. The most elaborately created background and detailed descriptions will not make a character do something. Throwing plot twists at our heroine will not always guarantee she will be forced into action. For this, our characters must have motivation.

Ask the following questions:

  • What is their greatest desire, their motivation?
  • What does the character want - from people, from any situation?
  • Will outside influences alter these desires?
  • How far will they go to obtain it?
  • What will they do when their goal is realised?

By asking (and answering) the above, our characters should will evolve, revealing their personalities in response to the developing plot. This change should be ongoing. Ask the questions often; each interaction, every event has the potential to lead each character in a new direction, driving action and possibly altering our character's motivation. From these little things, stories can grow.

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Of Cameras and Their Point of View.

I have commented previously on how invaluable I find my writers' group.  We meet once a month, at the local library. Last week I took a break from writing Doctor Jack - to enjoy the company  of my fellow writers and discuss the final scenes of The Department of Curiosities's fifth chapter  (my novel length manuscript work-in-progress).

chapter51strewritesThese scenes of Chapter 5: Of Resurrections, Discoveries and Assassinations/Eliminations (still being decided) - follows the despicable acts of the antagonist's henchmen. No spoilers. From the start, I envisaged the henchmen as almost faceless non-individuals. They do not speak. We never learn their names. They act almost as one. We do not get any insight into their thoughts, feelings or motives. Nada.

This has forced me to practice writing from a new point of view (POV) - that of the 'Camera'. Not an easy task! Personal descriptives kept sneaking into the prose. One sentence that had to be culled was:  'This had been expected, and planned for.'  How can a camera interpret their motives or intent?  Smells, vision and sound need to be self-explanatory - or suggestive. Gone was also 'With all secrecy lost'. The reader must interpret for themselves.

This has been a great learning experience. If I can pull it off, the henchmen will be just that little bit more detached and hopefully produce some discomfort - like emotionless robots. My take home lesson this month has been: The camera does not think. It does not interpret. The camera only sees.

Of Doctors, Incentives and Writing Camps.

Introducing Doctor Jack for Camp NaNoWriMo:

One of my biggest problems is procrastination and discipline. Over the past two months, my writing output has slowed down due to irregularities in my writing schedule.  Last year I was concentrating on short stories. Competition deadlines proved a very effective incentive for establishing a daily writing schedule. I was on a roll.

This gave me the confidence to finally start writing my manuscript The Department of Curiosities - but it has been a two-edged sword. Over the past (almost) two months, my writing schedule has become more erratic. I have managed to complete 30% of my manuscript (which I am extremely happy with) but the barreling pace for my 'stream of consciousness' first draft has slowed down.

I started looking for something to give me a kick up my butt. I had discovered NaNoWriMo - National Novel Writing Month - last year. It was tempting; deadlines have always worked for me. But, due to my health situation, I decided the added stress would not be advisable.

It is now almost six months later and I have discovered Camp NaNoWriMo - a less stressful and more flexible version. Like NaNoWriMo, Camp NaNoWriMo is held over 30 days. Instead of a 50,000 word target, there is a flexible 10,000- 999,000 word target, which also allows for short stories and work on other projects (NaNoWriMo in November is aimed at starting and finishing a single manuscript project).

I have decided to dip my toes in and get a feel for how intense November may be. My April limit is 10,000 words - towards a new short story - Doctor Jack - featuring my two Victorian doctors - Viola Stewart and John Collins.  Any shortfall will be directed at continuing my manuscript. I am hoping a short break will give my creative brain time to bubble away and sort out two plot points that have been bugging me for The Department of Curiosities, while I write another Viola Stewart Adventure (and stop my friend Sue from bugging me for a new story!)

I was hoping to put pen to paper and start writing the actual story today but, alas, I was sidetracked by necessary research. I should have done this earlier but my headspace was still immersed in The Department of Curiosities.  I did manage about four hours of reading research, up to 1000 words on background research and a really cool map (yes, I did need the map for times and reasons for travel).

I now have a basic outline for the plot with one or two motive/plot holes I am trying to plug. My creative brain is feeling really hinky right now. Welcome to the world of Doctor Jack.

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