Thursday, 11 February 2010

Character Examples One

Since the last post seemed to go quite well, and since it's often easier to find general things on character development than anything specific, I thought I'd have a look at the process of character development with reference to a few of my own. This isn't because they're the best characters in the known universe (though several of them probably think they are. I have a thing for overblown and arrogant types). It's simply because, without conducting experiments on better known authors involving electrodes and green bubbling things (you've got to have green bubbling things) these are the only ones where I know about the whole process. I might have to do it over a few posts, because of the space involved. So, here we go:

Let's start with the ones that come out of very little. Take this extract from my story 'Fishing for Worlds': Timothy sat by the shore of the burning sea, dangling his feet off the end of his
grandfather’s dock. He didn’t dangle them in the water, because it was after all a burning
sea, but he didn’t feel it ruined the effect.

Now from what I recall, in addition to the title that was all I had of the story, and the character, at first. Actually, for a good fifteen minutes I just had up to the first comma, in one of those moments where you write something, and you know there's something there, but you aren't sure what. The point though is that sometimes you can find out so much about a character just from what you get in that first moment of inspiration. We know he's a fantasy character. We know he's probably young, and that the story's going to involve the relationship with his grandfather, which raises the question of where his parents are. We know his grandfather has something to do with the sea. We know that there will be fishing involved. Possibly for worlds.

We can guess other things just from what he's doing. That he's either idle or bored (I went with bored, as a precursor to one of those stories where being unhappy with your lot sparks something odd), is likely from the fact that he's sitting there dangling his feet over the edge of the dock. It's also the classic activity of someone bunking off from what they're supposed to be doing, so maybe there's a little streak of rebelliousness there too.

Put together, this probably doesn't sound like much, but combined with a few initial thoughts on the shape of the story (I wanted a weird sort of creation myth after reading a couple of siberian ones), it gave me almost as much of Timothy as we end up seeing. This is in contrast to an earlier attempt on the same title and theme, where I just started making up random bits of character. It all fell apart after a few hundred words.

The point is that sometimes, it can be easy to go off making up things about characters when that isn't what's needed. Sometimes, you have everything you need right in front of you.

Incidentally, anyone who feels like reading the complete story can find it in Semaphore Magazine's archive, in the September 2008 issue.

1 comment:

Heather said...

I read the story. I didn't quite understand it but it got my imagination going and I found it really beautiful.