Tuesday, September 10, 2013

TTYU Retro: Personal interactions reveal character

I was trying to "restart" a character of mine some time ago, because critique partners had told me he didn't come across as having a very strong personality. This character is a particular challenge because he's got a degree of "strong, silent type" about him. One would be tempted to put him first into a situation where he really wasn't interacting with other people, just because he's so comfortable not saying anything. I've read enough Facebook memes about introverts lately that I'm sure I'll have readers who think I shouldn't put him through it.

But I'll still argue that putting this character into personal interaction is the best way to introduce him.

I'm in deep point of view here, and so my readers get to share his internalizations. Thus, if someone is interacting with him and he doesn't feel comfortable with it, they'll know, because his discomfort will be evident. The other thing I find I can do is put him in interaction with someone he does feel comfortable with, and show how he doesn't always make use of an opportunity to comment. How he judges the interaction styles of other people. And what kind of thing would be so unusual that it would actually move him to speak to a group (he gets rather upset about the behavior of some younger students).

My other character is less quiet and hangs around with three of his friends constantly. I chose to start him in a moment of reflection, to give a bit of his mood and backstory, but thereafter I put him straight into interactions with his three friends, to show what their social roles are, and their styles of interaction.

Which is to say that if you're introducing a character, try to put them into interaction with other people when possible. If you've got a wanderer who never sees a living soul, that's a bit different - but chances are the story will still bring that person out of their comfort zone and into interaction with other human beings. Show us those interactions. It will show us so much about your character.

11 comments:

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  2. Nice post, Juliette, and instructive as always. I especially liked the wry last sentence in the first para--I've seen those same introvert memes!

    Have you considered taking a second PhD in psychology in the copious spare time you enjoy between parenting, writing, and blogging? You'd totally ace psych. ;-)

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    1. Thanks for commenting, Dario! I've always found psychology fascinating. Probably not up for the second Ph.D. though. :)

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  3. Excellent post. And I'm facing a similar situation with a main character who's quite the loner. And my opening scene has her alone until about halfway thru the scene. This is something I'll have to think about. Thanks!

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    1. Monica, I'm glad it got you thinking. Just remember there are no hard and fast rules here. Do what works best for you and your character. Thanks for the comment!

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  4. We introverts tend to be either deep water or shallow water where there really is nothing there. (grin)

    One of the nicest bits of character reveal for a quiet character I've ever read was from the POV of the main character who breaks into the apartment of this quiet character who is seen as a major hard-ass antihero.

    He has a teddy bear on his couch which the POV later finds out belongs to his nephew. So much for this guy being a true bad guy.

    These kinds of touches work much better than long stretches of interiors which tend to bore most readers.

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    1. Interesting, Marilynn. I'm sure if I read the story the example would stand out for me more strongly. I don't believe I was advocating "long stretches of interiors." Well-placed internalization can be very effective.

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  5. Very interesting, and quite timely for me. In my current WIP, I knew going in that one of my characters--the leader of a space mission--was supposed to be completely awesome. The problem was, because I knew she would be so awesome and I needed to figure out my other characters, I've spent most of the novel focusing on building them up, and she's rarely had moments to shine. The ones she has had so far feel a bit forced. I need to figure out a way to bring her up to my conception of her, a task which is made more difficult by her not being a POV character. I've thought of a few ways to show bits of her personality, but am still considering how to make her worthy of my POV character's hero-worship without relying on clich├ęs. You've given me lots to think about.

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    1. Gee, I'm glad that's helpful for you, Kristin. One thing that helped me was paying close attention to the very first time my point of view character encountered a secondary character (who was supposed to be extremely important/awesome). That first interaction can tell us a whole lot about how the secondary character operates, and will give us a lot of information to carry forward about them.

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  6. Yes, sometimes you can't force those 'strong, silent' types to come out of their shells and just have to let them be until their 'time.' But after saying that I got to thinking about my main character and how he really is a 'clean slate' for most of the first part of the book (though there are technically a few other 'main' characters as well who are probably more interesting off the bat) AND I got to thinking about your last article about what gives readers cause to 'drop out' of the story.

    My next thought was that perhaps my main character wasn't interesting enough and I was dead in the water. But then I got to thinking that maybe I could get him involved sooner somehow, especially motivationally and emotionally....definitely lots to think about...

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    1. Well, I'm glad it got you thinking. There are a lot of things to think about with our characters. Good luck!

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