Love to Hate Your Characters
I want to take some time to thank you for reading my blog. It’s a labor of love and I’m excited about it. Now, down to business.
So you’re writing a novel! Congrats. The development of your characters differs drastically not just in demeanor but also in the length of the story you want to tell. It’s exceedingly difficult to cram in an entire life of lessons into 20,000 words. It can be done, but then you may fall into the pit of the dreaded “Info Dump”(ID). The reason I call it ‘dreaded’ is because while you’re writing it can seem like the perfect place and time for your background, but when you reread your work it can seem more than a little heavy. For example: When you’re writing about two characters for the first time and one of them tells the other about their entire life story even though they have no prior history together, it can become more than a little unrealistic. In fact, rule of thumb, don’t do it if you wouldn’t. If you wouldn’t feel comfortable talking about how you had a miscarriage or your parents divorce in a first time conversation, then odds are your character wouldn’t either.
The ID can bog down a story as well. You have to find a way to insinuate your background in, either through introspective or through conversation. Consider using gossip as a way to start that conversation. Flaws are always a good way to humanize your character and gossip, either direct or indirectly, about your character can insert the background you need. Just keep it short. I would say if you have a page or more about one character’s background you are verging on an ID.
If you love your characters make them feel pain. Keep in mind that if there is no problem in your character’s life then there can be no development. Without tragedy there can be no growth. Everyone has had troubles, but everyone deals with them differently and not many adult enjoy wearing their problems or feelings on their sleeves. When you find a way to mask your character’s problems and pain then you’ve effectively created depth. Congratulations!
The basics of developing your character would be to create a basic background for your characters, but I would caution against writing out their entire lives. Sometimes their background needs room to grow along with your story. You’d be surprised how often you will start out with a set back story only to change it as the story takes on a life of its own. So don’t put too much effort into your back stories, because you may need to edit them extensively anyway. Go in with a basic idea and let the story write itself. I can’t tell you how many times I got lost in the back story of my characters and forgot to tell the actual story.
Conclusion: If you love your characters let them grow from their experiences and let them learn from their mistakes. Be subtle with your background. Avoid the dreaded ID and use flaws to tell a story. Don’t let your backstory detract from your main plot line. There is a reason it’s called the background.
Parting thought: If your story bogs down, it may be because your character wouldn’t do what you’re writing and it doesn’t feel right. Try interviewing your character. You may be surprised at what they have to say.
Until Next Time! 😉