04 October 2009

The Importance of Character

A dear, dear friend asked me what I thought of an editor's comments regarding her latest book. Having been told that the book did not have a wide enough appeal to a general audience but rather more valued by family and friends who could fill in the gaps, my friend turned to me. 

First let me say that my friend has had / is having an amazing life and that she is a terrific writer -- she has a wonderful way with words and, though this latest book comes closer to a true memoir than her first book -- a collection of non-fiction vignettes-- I agree with the editor. 

Without having dropped the veil on her own personal story and the deeper story of her relationships, the reader never has a chance to see how she is changed by the journey she undertakes in the story. Instead of more closely concentrating on her inner evolution, she focused on the outside. And, by keeping herself at a distance, the reader in the end is robbed of the true joy of reading -- identification. 

Universal appeal comes through the character -- the inner plot, not though the dramatic action -- the outer plot. The protagonist (in a memoir, that means you, the author) drives the story and the allows for an emotional involvement on the part of the reader. 

Yes, my friend wrote herself in such a way that she comes across strong and both empathetic and sympathetic. However, without a clear goal and an clearly identified inner problem that gets solved, the reader is left to fill in the gaps.

Key elements in the character inner plot:
1) The protagonist must grow throughout the story in a believable and meaningful way. 

2) Protagonist goal = must be specific. The goal is what motivates the character and is what allows the reader to gauge when the character comes closer to goal and when she is thrust further away. What does the character want and why?

2) The character must reveal themselves to the reader. This can be accomplished through dialogue and descriptions, and through the actions she takes. In whichever way the writer finds to "show" the character, the character's emotion must be included = Character Emotional Development. 

3) The secondary and minor characters act as real people who offer comparisons and contrasts to the main character, thus expanding the readers' understanding of the protagonist and of the overall theme itself.

4) Is the character struggling against herself and an external antagonist? Whether an inner demon or flaw and / or an external antagonist, we must understand the obstacles in the way of the protagonist achieving her goal to more fully appreciate the growth she ultimately makes.

For a simple questionnaire to help develop your protagonist's inner and outer plot, fill out the Character Emotional Development Profile.