That’s it. I’ve believed it for a long time now. Recently, I racked my mind trying to think of anything — anything — that is more important than character. I don’t want to spend hundreds of hours writing a story that no one will read.
Novels are unique in human entertainment because they go deep into a character. Think of a character as a friend telling you their story. We listen to stories because we want to fit in socially with others.
A nonfiction book on auto-mechanics will improve your understanding of cars. A novel (especially fantasy) doesn’t improve are relationship to things, but it does to people. That is why novels are read and why people pay to read them. Escapism is part of the reason, but it doesn’t explain difficult to read stories like the novel, ‘These Lovely Bones.’ Getting into the mind of character and seeing how they tick is what keeps our unconsciousness mind engaged in stories.
So I am focusing on character.
The main character of ‘Spacefarm’
You see I’m hitting some snags while outlining my new ‘Spacefarm’ novel, (Though I think I’ll change it to ‘Galaxy-Farm.’) The character Charles isn’t grabbing my attention. He is boring.
At first I had him anti-social and a loner, but this felt way to cliche and I just wasn’t buying it. Why did he go out to gamble? Why does he explode in anger on people? So I changed him from anti-social to badly socialized — think two year old who won’t share his toys. This has led to way more social telling possibilities, namely his bad friends who are holding him back. Misery loves company. This lets me focus the story. Turns out that his problem is gambling, not his devil-may-care attitude towards others. Everything bad about his life works together to make his life bad — but not unbearable.
He only changes (In the same way you only change) when his life becomes unbearable. An unavoidable collision course with destiny. The refocus on Charles’s problems is necessary to make the struggle fun to read. When Charles’s destiny comes at him like a raging bull it isn’t about him not working with people, its about the kind of people he works with. His new friends, despite being criminals, actively push him towards doing good.
That deserves some clarification. They are criminals in the broad sense of the word. In the same way if you collect rain water for later consumption in America, you are a criminal. The government of planet Iora is corrupt, but I digress.
How can I get Charles from being a cliche bore to a driven protagonist? The answer is simple but requires lots of work. I am reading stories of people with gambling addiction, people with anger issues, and analyzing my own life for examples of both. These will be the problems he struggles with.
Sounds like an awful character right? Yes. But you are going to like him anyway. Because I won’t merely describe his flaws, I want to understand why he returns to his addictions like a dog to vomit. Empathy will create investment, which when Charles is chased down by space-pirates, suspense. Hence the research.
God willing, it will all work together and I can have an exciting novel with a crazy son-of-a-raccoon man everyone loves.
Your Call to Action
- Character outweighs all other considerations in writing.
- Research your character’s flaws — they are disgustingly human as opposed to what their fakebook page would lead you to believe.
- Empathize with those flaws, explain to your reader why a people would act this way.
That’s all for this post. There is more to be said on character. In particular I will write more about developing a characters arc, avoiding generalities, and developing danger to relate to his problem. But I want to get back to outlining my novel.