The Art of Writing No. 25
How deep do you delve into your main character(s)?
It’s a question that faces all novelists. Revealing character has a spectrum from the implicit to the direct but usually it has to be some mixture of the two. By implicit (in the extreme) I mean that character is being explored through actions and without the author adding his or her pennyworth through direct descriptions of people’s traits and attitudes. The reader makes up his or her mind through the accumulation of evidence as the book marches on. At the other extreme, the entire character is laid on a slab and forensically dissected in a ‘pre-mortem’, so to speak.
Most readers appear to like some balance between the two. They like their characters introduced as they enter the fray of the narrative so that they can ‘see’ them and sense the same kind of information they would get at a first flesh and blood meeting. Then they would like them to develop as they navigate the extraordinary circumstances you have arranged for them. A well described character at the outset, who does not develop, results in the novel’s hold on the reader being entirely dependent upon the intricacies of plot, like in an Agatha Christie. Do we learn that much more about Poirot than we gain in the very first pages he graces? Poirot’s adventures are more like crossword puzzles than an illuminated manuscript. The characters are roughly daubed and tend to be stereotypes.
Here is how I introduce the Historian in Azimuth:
If a man could be said to be constructed from the tools of his work, then Kamil was just such a man. He laboured with pen and paper and from them he built history. His flesh was as dry and pale as bleached parchment, his blood so dark it could have been extracted from crushed beetles and yet his intelligence was as sharp as the knife he used to give edge to his quills…”
Kamil is a typical scholar of the period, fat and preoccupied with library affairs. Over the 920 pages he becomes a detective, falls in love, faces death and… commits acts of which he is less than proud. All the while we are privy to his inner thoughts about what he has to face. At the end I was very tied to him. He was more real to me than many acquaintances. But I am just one reader of my work. And it is for you to determine how three dimensional he becomes.
When you are editing your book, it is worth tracing whether the events you have included in your narrative are leading gradually to greater understanding of your dramatis personae or leaving abandoning them as two dimensional ciphers.
www.azimuthtrilogy.com (for paperback and PDFs)
The Strange Attractor by Eric le Sange Kindle Amazon
Azimuth by Jack Sanger Books 1, 2, 3 on Kindle Amazon