Monday, April 1, 2013

Walking Sticks and Flasks and Implementation

When I began Spirit of Orn, I was spending most of my time recovering lost talents and establishing bad habits. Writing stories has been apart of my life since I was in elementary school. I would get home and write, and create these sprawling stories with huge universes. Before that, when I didn't have a computer or a writing pad, it would be all in my mind. But in those days creating characters was a second nature feeling. It was easy. Like any talent or skill, it takes practice to get better, but I stopped writing stories for almost ten years before I started back up again.

One of the things that I noticed about my old stories was that when I created a character they were so tangible to me. I could feel them in my mind as these real people. I think what made them so real was giving them things to do that, while maybe being cliched, made them more cinematic in my head and on paper. For instance, a long time ago I saw a short film about a city full of howitzers stationed on rooftops, and I though that was pretty cool, but there were no characters in the film. I decided to write a story about it, but gave it a main protagonist that was an everyman. (Everman characters are generally easy to develop, because they serve only to observe, but I like giving them more personality.)

Now in Spirit of Orn, after rediscovering this character making process, I decided to take a new approach. As I said before giving a man a staff, to make him old, or a bawdy man a flask to make him a drunkard, are easy ways of enhancing how people see your characters. It's important to balance your level of detail though. A supporting character should have no more than three dimensions to his character. For example:

On a bright, clear weathered day in Sussex, Mus Tuppen when himself down to the Channel waters with his rod in hand. Taking care of the limp, he held his pants at the waist, striding across the rocks, sticking out of the country road. "Harumph!" He declared. His thick mustache tickled his nose. "Beautiful day for a lure. Ms. Winborn and her boats! Give me the rock any day. Nay sire, Sussex wun't be druv. Englishmen fish with rods, not boats."

Here Mr. Tuppen (Mus is colloquial for Mr.) has three characteristics: he carries a fishing rod, has a limp, and sports a thick mustache. In our heads this creates the image of a stock character. He's an ornery old man, using traditional speech, and has a pastime that keeps him busy. Keeping how he got the limp ambiguous is important. Sometimes abstaining from detail helps to develop a character. He could be a war veteran or a farmer gored by a bull. I like keeping things up for grabs in the reader like that.

Now a main character I think should have no more than ten characteristics. That's a substantial increase from the supporting character. The reason for this is because a good main protagonist should be multidimensional, and have lots of different elements that comprise who that character is. Also it's a pragmatic choice because the more details you have, the more you have to work with throughout the book. For example:

Master Norrell lived in Sussex conditionally. His father was a Sussex man from Aldwick, seated in the last house of their family -- Three fathers before him they were there, -- but their ancestral home lay in Brighton. He never considered himself a Lewes man, God no! He possessed the largest library in all of Chichester, a lover of books and poetry, and it was apparent to all that he spent far too much time reading his favorite volumes of Eliot, Doyle, and (his favorite) Henry James (which he always announced by his full name), for his face was never presentable to other respectable gentleman. He was a frugal man, buying his clothing second hand from the local parson in excess of their value, and perceived himself to be well to do and charitous for it. He was delightfully outspoken for a man of his statue, and a lover of all things concerning the history of the Romans. Once he walked up to the mayor and announced he had found an authentic Roman coin. Flustered and taken aback by the announcement, the Mayor scoffed, shaking his finger at him, "You Norrell lads should learn yourself proper manners, instead of running up to unsuspecting, sensible men and scaring the living daylights out of them!"

By now I've lost count, but as you can see we have a lot to use with Master Norrell's character.

That, more or less is an example of what I mean by developing characters using habits, objects, and environments to make them more tangible. I like doing it this way because I feel like when character details become more cerebral we lose the physical nature that makes the character real. In addition, I feel generally that a physical character can be filled in implicitly with our own biases and ideas as well. It gives the reader more agency in the read.

But I've rambled on long enough. That is all for now. See you on Wednesday!


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