Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Compelling Characters

I have recently embarked on a pair of novels, neither of which I have yet decided will be the main focus for the current writing season.  One thing I have realized, however, is that whichever book I choose will be much more character focused than my last couple.  Salvation Day is centered around a man undergoing tumultuous times in his life, and Akeldama is all about the hunter Seth Gendrickson and his pursuit of vampires.  My third book, Wrongful Death, follows a (dead) high school senior as he tries to make his transition to the afterlife.

However, my last two books have been much more story focused.  Schism introduces a few folks, but it's designed to get the reader caught up in the chaos of the action rather than invested in one man.  In Homecoming, the main character is just a vehicle through which to tell the tale; any degree to which the audience finds him sympathetic or worthy of caring is entirely incidental.  This all means that I have to find my way back to writing characters that the audience gives a hoot about, and that makes me nervous.
(What a character!)
It's not that I don't think I could write a great character.  Instead, the problem is twofold - first, and this is where I whine a little bit, writing a compelling character is emotionally draining.  The key to this is making the person seem real to us.  Beyond that, they have to be someone the audience wants to root for.  That takes every ounce of strength I can muster.  Second, the characters I'm envisioning, although very real, might not be the most likeable in the world.

If I go with The Onyx Cluster, the main man is a bit of an arrogant prick who finds himself lost in a world totally alien to him.  I see his mouth and mannerisms getting him into trouble in lots of ways.  That might make him real, but will it make the audience want him to succeed, or will they hope he steps into a volcano so they can go back to their lives?  Making this fish out of water bearable until we can get to where people are genuinely invested in him will be tough.  In the other book(no title yet...After Armageddon maybe?), the guy I have pictured is a weasel who has to find his way to courage if he's going to confront Satan.  Once he's in his groove, I think pulling for him will be easy, but getting to that point could prove difficult.

In a character based book, the main character is the key to the story, so he has to be well scripted.  If readers don't want to read more about him, you might as well write "gribble gorkle flibbit plunk," because the audience will have the same reaction - they'll wonder why the hell they're reading it.

I have to strike a balance in this, and it's not easy.  Shoot, it's not easy for established writers, let alone the rest of us.  I guess I'd better get started.

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