Sunday, June 4, 2017

Great Fiction Depends on Great Characters

We all know character development is important, but most of us are tired of the standard advice: Avoid stereotypes. Model your characters on real people with foibles. 

Maybe these three points will start you thinking about character development.

1. Spend less time describing characters’ appearances and more time showing their actions, especially if their actions put them in conflict with the norms of their worlds.

2. If you usually write novels, experiment with short stories. They force you to identify and demonstrate the key features of characters more quickly and succinctly. Also, you're more apt to rewrite a character that you haven't become attached to after a hundred pages.
3. One trick for displaying unforgettable characters is to select the narrator (point of view) of your tale carefully. Before I started writing short stories, I interviewed dozens of acquaintances about their mothers, aunts, and grandmothers. In several cases, I listened to tales about the same person from siblings or spouses. I also knew several of the women described. I quickly recognized that reality depended on the eyes of the beholder.
Then I wrote vignettes with surprising plot twists about mothers in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s (The Good Old Days?) and modern women (Other People’s Mothers). The women in each story made choices. The narrators of the stories often didn’t understand the basis of the decisions because of incomplete information or personal biases. Accordingly, they warped the portraits of the women, and I could develop the characters to be more memorable.
How do you develop characters in your fiction?

My collections of short stories are available in paperback and Kindle format at Amazon.