Back To Our Regular Programming: Characters Matter

Okay, so instead of writing, I’m busy writing a blog about, err, writing.

I think I need to switch to decaf.

Lately I’ve let myself “go political” for a few posts. That was something I swore I would never do when I started this blog. Just like I swore I would cut back on coffee in 2017.

Yeah, both of those resolutions had about the same chance of success.

At any rate, no more politics. Not today…and hopefully not for a while.

Nope, today is all about taking the title of Saturday’s “bonus post” and putting it back into writing terms: character matters. On two levels that works…and you can figure them out just as easily as can I*.

most-interesting-squirrel*Squirrel Moment of the Day: one of the hardest things to learn in writing? DON’T OVER-EXPLAIN! Trust your readers and, most of all, respect them. As readers, we all (well, I think all) hate it when writers talk down to us, when they assume we can’t connect dots on our own. So, why then, is the urge to do the same thing so strong when we write? Words are precious things — no, really, trust me on this, your word count is a precious resource: don’t waste it on unimportant details and pointless background. Give hints, sketch a few lines, then let the reader fill in the details with their own mind. Trust them, in other words, and treat them like they have brains of their own.

I know I’ve talked about that problem with wordiness and over-explaining before, but crap…that’s worth a post in and of itself.

But not today.

Not today because that topic deserves some thought and planning…neither of which I have ready at the moment.

Nope, today I’m thinking about characters. About when characters speak for themselves, and about when they help dictate the story.

I need to rephrase that title I’m re-using from Saturday: Characters Matter.

Don’t use them lightly…don’t sell them short…and, for God’s sake, don’t railroad them! If a character does, or says, something totally outside of their make-up, you’ve failed them. I don’t care if it’s necessary to advance the plot…I don’t care if it’s something that has to happen…I don’t care if the devil makes them do it*, your character has to do what’s right for them.

*Although that, arguably, could be a fun little device to play with…in the right circumstances.

Want to know why I never got into GRRM’s Fire & Ice series? Because, too often, his characters do things that are alien to who they are. He has done a masterful job of creating deep, rich and engaging characters…then betrayed them by forcing them to do things simply because the plot calls for it.

That is, I should add, one area where the TV series has, for the most part, done a great job of “cleaning up” — HBO’s Game of Thrones adaptation is, I believe, only the second* instance where I’ve found the movie/show better than the original book(s).

*Jaws is the other one.

And, yes, Tyrion is still the best and most interesting character in either version…although Jaime has his worth, too. Remember my fixation with the broken and the flawed? Yep, it all goes back to the best chapter title ever: Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things. I will always love GRRM for that one…both for the title, and for that first glimpse of Tyrion as a hell of a lot more complicated and interesting than the reader’s initial impressions.

In the end, if you have to force your character to do something outside of themselves — something alien to who they are — you need to go back and either rework that character, or rework your story/plot.

By now, you probably know just where I come down on that particular decision…

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