I’m not a girl who falls in love, really. I date rarely and when I do it’s usually the result of careful consideration of the costs and benefits. It’s probably not romantic, and it’s also probably not a super healthy way to manage my romantic life.
There is an exception, though… and those are the occasions on which I fall head over heels in love with a character.
It can be a character that someone else has written, but usually it’s a character I’ve written… after all, I know just how to woo myself. And I have to say, I have a type. It’s usually a male character; after all, I do love men. It’s also usually the Well-Intentioned-Scoundrel types or the Reluctant-Hero types. This in and of itself is not a bad thing; it means that I’ve created a character so thoroughly that I know exactly what they will feel, exactly what they should say, and exactly how they will react. I get to know that son of a bitch so well that I can see in my mind’s eye EXACTLY how he would hold a coffee cup. I understand how he walks, why he speaks and sounds the way he does, and exactly how his face betrays the inner workings of his mind. I understand his goals and motivations completely.
This is perfect, right? A character that you can fall in love with is a character the world can at least be intrigued by, and in fiction writing there isn’t much more important than the character. Falling in love with your character helps you to write the most believable, relateable, genuine person that was ever fabricated.
Except that they’re not the only character in the book or story, in almost all cases. Plot is at least in part character-character driven. So while you’re grooming tender sentences about the object of your fictional affection, your other characters become flabby and anemic and they start to waste away, becoming just a two-dimensional foil for the first character, or worse, a cameraman. This is particularly problematic if you are foolish enough to embark on a project, like I have, that really only includes two characters. Why?
Character drives plot.
You cannot have a good story without great characters. The characters are the means by which your reader engages with the story. If you write a scene in which one person offers a flower to another person, the response, actions, and thoughts of your characters are what lets the reader know if they should be happy, elated, sad, or creeped out. This kind of emotional involvement is absolutely crucial in keeping readers interested. It is what gives everything that happens in your story context and meaning.
So you have to stop. You have to fix it.
This can be a problem. When you’re writing things that you’re thrilled about, they often seem to write themselves. If you’re writing things that you’re kind of ambivalent about, it can feel difficult, like walking in sand. But it has to be done, and if the character is salvageable, it will slowly get easier as the individual develops and becomes more interesting to you.
I understand that a lot of what I write about my neglected character in this exercise will not be usable in the manuscript, and I’m comfortable with that. But understand that if you really do restore the balance of attention given to each, you will reap untold rewards.
Of course, I’m a college drop out with nothing published, so that tells you what my insight is worth.
If you write, have you had character development challenges? How did you fix them? If you don’t write, have you ever read fiction with weak character development?