The Art of Writing No. 17

What I ended up doing in the last blog, was show how complexity in characters’ profiles provides a springboard for a book to go in many directions. We can demonstrate this by looking within the action of your own tale. You have three characters. If each displays only one characteristic (thus being a cipher) then you have a maximum of three believable outcomes when they interact with each other, since each acts true to this trait.  If not the reader dumps the book because the characters’ behaviours aren’t credible. But take the same three characters and build into their profiles ambiguities, paradoxes, dark and light and there can be limitless potential in the products of their interaction.
So much depends upon the setting up and evolution of the characters in your story. The greater the depth, the greater the potential for rich progression as the story moves on. However, we must also realize that authors have their limits of tolerance as far as open-endedness is concerned. For some, too much ambiguity and range can easily lead to writer’s block as they become swamped by infinite possibility. Finding the right balance between character depth and plot imperative is at the heart of a long piece of writing. I suppose we have to establish our ambition. We can earn our way in any of a number of genres by tamping down our characters just enough to augment but not impede the pace of the narrative. We can make them credible with rough brush strokes because readers of genre fiction have in-built tolerances themselves and have a less exacting expectation of character development. But if we take upon ourselves a higher brow ambition, then characters will vie with plot for which has the greater significance.  There are many great examples of  novels and plays which are practically plotless from the usual physical and geographical action perspectives but whose narratives are entirely concerned with evolving psychosocial relationships between protagonists. Becket, Joyce, Kafka and many more subverted the need for traditional plot lines in favour of exploring in the greatest depth, character. Authors must temper literary ambition with an awareness of personal capability. Books take a long time to write.

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