Sunday, December 27, 2009

On Character Development

My husband and I are both reading books right now. Doesn't seem like a big, important thing but for us it is. Since I'm working on a second bachelor's degree most of my free time is occupied by homework. My husband isn't a big reader, and most of his free moments are spent reading Dr. Suess.

My husband is reading Eragon. He reports that after a slow start, he finally liked a "cool character" and then that "cool character died, bringing in more cool characters."

I'm reading The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Like his assessment of Eragon, I thought it started slow but with such an usual opening I was compelled to keep reading. Somewhere between the first quarter and the end of the first half, it became captivating.

What first attracted me was the mystery of the pressed flowers, but what kept me turning pages was the character development of Lisbeth Salader. Early on you realize she's massively intelligent, but then in the middle, the reader discovers she's been named incompetent by the state, suspected of being retarded, and has a state-appointed guardian controlling her money despite the fact that she's 24.

The novel has several (at least three) subplots converging, slowly but steadily. The reader has no choice but to surrender in awe to the natural behavior of the characters, which unlike the Jacqueline Susann novel I read last week, unfolds as it would to real people.

Meanwhile David Sedaris has disappointed me. I have found myself knee-deep in his short stories about growing up gay in a dysfunctional family and I'm bored.

This leads me to several questions about characters and plots, for examination in my own work:
  • Does the character develop with enough twists and depth that he/she becomes a real person, complex and well-rounded?
  • Does the text foreshadow this depth?
  • Why should a reader care about this character?
  • Is any character in the story a two-dimensional "stock" character?
This leads me to ponder my "bad guy" more... never a bad thing, but potentially dangerous to my existing novel I'm trying to market.

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