Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Monday blog: Character development

Currently reading: The Amber Spyglass - Philip Pullman
Reading next: Railsea - China Miéville
Writers' Bureau course progress: Assignment 2 back on track

Character development is vitally important to me, after all it is the very core of any story. We change constantly throughout our lives; even the tiniest situations and interactions can alter our entire perceptions and behaviours. So if you were to read a story with characters that don't develop in some way as a result of their experiences they could come off as feeling one-dimensional or it could even render their actions within the story inconsequential.

No single character in any story is more worthy of good solid development than the protagonist. The protagonist of any story is the character through which the story is told, whichever fashion the author chooses to present this. They are arguably the most important character as far as the reader is concerned, even if they aren't necessarily the keystone of the actual story. The reader follows this character closely and, in some situations and to varying degrees, may be able to relate to them personally. So if we change naturally, so too should the people we read about in fiction. This doesn't always mean it needs to be a positive change however, but it does need to make sense.

I'm used to absorbing content from wherever I can find it: books, movies, video games, etc. They're all perfectly valid forms of story telling. But a common trend I'm noticing, especially in a lot of blockbuster movies of late, is a lack of focus on character and development. This is most especially prominent in the recent instalment of Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: The desolation of Smaug. So much time and effort was put into large and impressive set pieces and action sequences that many of the actual character focus was lost. The aforementioned Hobbit himself was absent for most scenes and the little development we did see was promising but thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread, as Bilbo himself said in Tolkien's opus, The Fellowship of the Ring.

But I'm not here to write a movie review; that can wait. My point is that without good character development the reader, or viewer in this case, has little cause to care about the plights of the protagonist nor anyone else within the specific world that is portrayed. If none of the terrible, terrifying and surprising events that just occurred had any effect on Blandy McStoney-face then why should I care about what happens next? My most common complaints about any sort of fiction usually revolve around character inconsistencies or the lack of any real development. The barrel out of bonds scene in The Desolation of Smaug was all very exciting (if not a complete deviation from the source material, grumble groan) but it still doesn't conceal the fact that Jackson created a female character specifically to make her "the woman" and "the love interest," a very shallow move that I'm both surprised and ashamed to see him make.

But I digress, again. I have spent a very long time making sure that my protagonist, Jade, is a fully realised, well-rounded and realistic character. She's flawed to begin with: impulsive, brash and somewhat selfish in her actions but through her endeavours in another world she comes to realise her past errors. The most important part of this for me was that she was never seen as being a bad person; Jade is naturally all these things but she shouldn't have to banish them from her personality in order to be a better person. Instead she must be aware of her actions and use her strengths to affect people positively. Her impulsive behaviour can be both a blessing and a curse, depending on how she uses it. I still don't know all the details of Jade's life but I'm pretty certain that I have a good enough idea such that when I begin to actively pen her tale she will guide my hand.

I believe characters should be treated as you would approach individual dog breeds: sure, each breed is different and their breed traits certainly have a bearing on their behaviour but one must not forget that underneath it all they are still dogs and they will do as dogs do. The same goes for characters: male, female, child, adult - these traits will help define their personalities and guide their actions but they are all still human and should be given the opportunity to behave as such. Just because a woman is a woman doesn't mean that all she can possibly be is someone for your protagonist to fall in love with.

That is all I have to say.

This is Frisk,
signing off.

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