Sunday, August 02, 2009

Visual Writing Prompt 8-2-09

Let’s talk characters - those folks who people your book. They give life to the story. They can reveal the truth or hide their intentions. Sometimes they provide laughter, sometimes fear. One thing memorable characters have in common is that they seldom reveal themselves completely.

Even the protagonist can be hiding things. As readers, we’re inside her head. We know everything. Don’t we? Not really. Even if you were in my head right at this moment, you wouldn’t know everything about me. As the writer, you can hold back things - or if you’re of the belief that characters write the book, not the author, then characters sometimes hold back things. If what the character is holding back or disguising is important, then there have to be little clues so the reader doesn’t feel cheated or hoodwinked when that something is ta-da: revealed.

But like real people, characters don’t reveal all. It’s given out over the course of the book. They keep their masks on. Even the good guys. This unveiling or character development applies to all the main characters (minor characters aren’t static either, but their growth is usually smaller and not as central to the plot).

Different characters have different reasons for wearing their masks. Perhaps they’re hiding something painful. Maybe they want another character to see them as they want to be not as they are. Maybe they know something but don’t want to tell or be involved. They could be trying to hide their feelings. They’re worried about their job. There are all kinds of reasons or motivations for your characters. When you think about your characters, consider what they can bring to the story, how they can advance the plot, how they will interact with different characters - and what they may be hiding.

Unlike Ms. Zorro, your characters can take off their masks - by the end of the book or as the series develops.
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  1. Very thought-provoking. I don't know...sometimes I feel the characters control things but most of the time I feel I do. I guess I'm doing the writing but often they're guiding my way. It's interesting how often they surprise us!

  2. Excellent points! My books are very relationship-driven, so it's the internal struggles, conflicts, and fears that move the story. Everyone has hangups that we can't see, issues in need of resolution, and it rarely happens with a bang.

    BTW - what do you think the cow is hiding?

    L. Diane Wolfe

  3. A couple of my characters are most definately wearing masks. Interesting post :)

  4. Totally agree with these points. A character's complexity and multi-levels of personality, motivation, secret agendas, etc., should unfold slowly as the story develops. I'm editing a book right now where the author has this propensity for laying out everything you could possible ever want to know about each character as soon as he/she is introduced to the story. Awful. I'm making her rewrite to give it to us bit by bit through the story line instead of stopping the story dead while she interrupts the forward motion to divulge a bazillion facts and details in her own narrative voice all at once.

    The Old silly

  5. I agree. My characters write my books and I try to type fast enough to keep up with them. I'm sure they have many secrets they haven't yet revealed to me. I'm also wondering what the cow has to do with secrets. (Is she having an affair with traveling rodeo bull?)

  6. It's sometimes startling to think you know all about your characters, only to have one reveal a something new.

    Diane and Jean, I think Ms. Zorro is hoping to hide from her owner who sent me this picture and called her steaks on legs.

  7. I like to read revelations as long as they're not too far off base and don't make sense.

    Morgan Mandel

  8. It's frustrating to me that it's a lot trickier to do this in practice than it is in theory! All part of the skill of learning to be a better writer, I guess - like 'showing not telling'. I think it's also important to trust your readers and resist the temptation to blurt everything out at once - not much of a read if you do that!

  9. Interesting. I like the point that just 'cause you're in the character's head you don't have to tell all. After all, no-one's ever thinking about everything all at once.

    And I wonder what the cow's thinking too.

  10. My characters definitely have a life of their own. They go to places I don't want them to go. They yell at each other when I want them to kiss. Very annoying!

    Bargain with the Devil


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