Tag Archives: dynamics

Developed

I have an infamously naive and youthful character, who I’ve been writing for years now, a little over five. In all of that time, she’s found out lies about her past, her family, what was expected of her and how she was conceived. She’s gotten closer to some family and further from others. The demise of the one who wrought ill on her may have only been suggested, but because we never got to finish that story.

I’ve put her through her paces in all of this time. I threw her in a huge storm in the middle of the ocean and watched her spiral into an unknown, uncharted island, to get herself back to the world she came from with the help of other stranded strangers.

She fell in and out of love. She was introduced to people/things that could help her in her journey, has unlocked a lot of power and potential, and has even surpassed the strength of her father. She isn’t a stranger to sex, or trauma, or extremes. Time and again, when she’s forced to stand up, she doesn’t hesitate.

What I expected in all of this time was for her youthfulness to transform. To watch her go from this giggling, excitable young girl to a seasoned woman who knew how to push through and show up for what was right. Instead, she’s persevered, and held on to that brightness, that light of hers that shines when she smiles and even when she doesn’t.

I never really considered that the change was a little deeper for her. On the outside, I still see her and write her and feel like she is the same excitable, impossibly optimistic young woman who strives for the best. On a deeper level, under the surface, I see that she knows what must be done in some situations, she knows right from wrong and has a strong sense of morality. What was shaped in the roughness she was thrown into was her ability to adapt to situations and protect those she cared for at any cost.

I’d had other characters get put through their paces and turn out jaded and cynical and unkind for it. What I expected was much of the same, but that’s just not who she is.

Development comes in all shapes and sizes, I realize, after some consideration on this particular character. It doesn’t all have to be extreme, some are more resilient than others. It can be light, it can be heavy, but in the end, whatever it is will be true to who that character really is.

In other words, the surface isn’t the only place to look for a change. Sometimes you have to dig into the cushions.

It adds a whole new dimension to things, to the story, and to the character herself. And I kinda like it that way.

The Novice Wordsmith

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Guest Post: The Voice

(No, it has nothing to do with the reality show.)

Every character has a voice. I express this to Wordsmith a lot; I say that ‘strong characters have a strong voice.’ It’s a way — the _main_ way — a character interacts with the reader. When you can hear the character talking, they become less words on a page, thrown on like limp spaghetti, and more like a movie script being enacted.

It’s not just about an accent. It’s not just about aphorisms, or turns of phrase. It’s the way that you _hear_ them talking. They’re still just words, but you can hear the emotion, the pauses, the tenseness and sultryness, You won’t need to add artificial exclamation points and ellipsis. It’s like your character is good enough to improvise their own dialogue because you ‘know’ what they’re going to say in response to anything.

When I say that “I haven’t found the voice for a character yet”, it means they’re going to be a little slower to write. They’re actors still, coming into the scene to say their lines and then going back off. I don’t wonder if they’re tired, hungry, or peppy. I have to consider their situation, their surroundings, and make them observe more. They are the ones who lack the ‘pop’ of a living, breathing, character.

How do you give a character a voice?

You can’t.

They have to earn it. And learn it.

They have to be dragged from scene to scene, until they find that moment of awesome that you make for them, where, like any hero or heroine, they rise to that moment and it defines them. It doesn’t have to be action. It could be inaction, letting something go that will affect them later. It could be a call of bravery or a breakdown that lets you see them in full color for the first time. Until then, they’re just words defining a picture, and poorly at that sometimes.

Hijacking the ideas from titular show for a second as an example; picture if you will, each character coming onto a stage for the first time, where you can’t see them, only hear them. They have a purposefulness you don’t understand yet. They have motivations you haven’t come up with for them yet. All they have is their unique voice, and you are the one that has to pick them for potential development. When you turn and see them, and add them to your novel, you decide whether they’re good looking as they are, or if they need a makeover. But it’s their voice that has to make you turn about and let them work with you. You have to hear something in it. You have to believe that they can be more with your work.

But not all characters find that next level right away. Some of them get supplanted by breakout characters with bigger, better, brighter, badder voices. “Main characters” have voices you can relate to strongly, and that is why they get the best lines and most memorable monologues.

But only you can find the voice for each of your characters.

You are the narrator, director, and casting head for your novel. Each character that walks through the pages, onto the stage and scene, has some level of voice, or they’re just an extra. But main characters have to have that time to develop properly, and sometimes no amount of forcing ideas on them work. It doesn’t mean you have to give up on them; it just means you haven’t found their sound yet.

When you find yourself quoting or reminiscing on things a character has done with a smile, they’ve got their voice. But until that happens, you have to keep writing their dialogue until they step up and say, ‘Hey, I should say it THIS way.’

And then you’ll know.