by C. Patrick Schulze
Listen to a PODCAST of this article.
If you've kept up with this blog, you'll know not too long ago I received my manuscript back from my editor, Ms. Erin Niumata of The New York Book Editor. Since she had a number of suggestions, I decided the best way to incorporate her recommendations into the novel was to work on one major component at a time. First I worked on plot and now I've moved toward the CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT issues my manuscript faces.
A main issue Erin had with my character development encompassed the sometimes limited subtly with which I developed my character. After rereading her notes and my manuscript, (for the ten-thousandth time), I believe I've come to understand the skill that's required in this regard.
The secret to character development is not found within descriptions or even direct dialogue. It lies in your character's actions and reactions.
Here's what I mean.
In one scene of the manuscript, my hero takes some friends on a lark and they run across a classic THRESHOLD GUARDIAN. When the travelers see the building in which the gatekeeper is located, their spirits lag. Despite their initial reaction, my protagonist, Jak, revives the men's sagging mood.
Here's what Erin said about the scene.
"A nice piece of character development is Jak's rousing the cadets on the way to Bones' tavern; even when they are disappointed at the sight of the tavern, he rallies their spirits. This is the subtly needed throughout - this is how we see that Jak will be a leader."
Another scene has Jak leading troops into a Civil War era battle. Here is Erin's comment as to character development with this scene.
"Nice scene where Jak is leading his men to battle and he charges then doesn't have the courage to turn and see if they're following. Good characterization."
A third instance in which Erin pointed out effective character development comes to light in a scene where I introduced a subplot, the hero's efforts to keep record of his days at war. Erin made the following comment relative to this scene and another character's reaction to this subplot.
"The war diary is an interesting idea. It's good character development and adds depth to Jak's character. Clay's reaction adds character development to Clay as well."
One final indication of how to bring characterization to light. In this scene Jak leads men into battle for the first time. Here are Erin's thoughts.
"Good - that's perfect: he turned his head and was startled by how many of his men had fallen. This should be the beginning of his realization."
Herein you see effective character development. It boils down to the classic, "Show. Don't tell." Don't have characters, or even the author, indicate who your character is. Don't have your characters talk about it and don't spend your time narrating it. Allow the character's actions to indicate his strengths, weaknesses and personality.
By the way, as a side note, I hope you noticed a good editor not only offers recommendations as to how to enhance your manuscript. She also tells you how to fix it. Just a clue for what to look for in a good editor.
What questions to you have as to character development?
Until we speak again, know I wish for you only best-sellers.
C. Patrick Schulze
Author of the emerging novel, "Born to be Brothers"