There are some things in life where inequality is okay, even expected. For instance, most people favor using one hand over the other for fine motor skills. In school, many students are classified as either athletic or academic. It is typical for people to be creative or analytical, less common to be an equal mix of both (but wouldn’t that be great?) Finally, most writers are either plot-driven or character-driven.
Too bad imbalance isn’t acceptable in writing fiction. I’m a plot-driven writer, no doubt. I hear a news story and my mind starts thinking of the twists that could turn it into fiction. A friend tells me about a funny interaction and I’m thinking of how to mold it into a story. I’ve got pages of ideas. Ideas aren’t a problem. Interesting people to follow my scripts – now, there’s the stumbling block.
The character-driven writer has pages of intriguing people waiting for something to happen. They create characters so vivid that I’d swear I could feel their heartbeat thumping on the pages. These fictional people are so real that I miss them as soon as I read the last word. Character-driven writers possess the part of my brain that lies dormant.
I know that in order to have a memorable story, I need equal parts plot and character. Neither element is powerful enough to carry the other. The story is only as strong as its weakest piece. So, I’m left with a choice: handle my character-development deficiency like I address my absence of abs (do nothing, while eating chocolate) or dedicate myself to building my character development muscles.
I finished my first draft of the character development story of a main character in novel number two. The good news is that the story does have a beginning, middle and end. That bad news? My puny characters have never been more obvious. Rather ironic considering that my goal in this story was to concentrate on character development.
On the positive side, I did focus on the main character’s interactions with others, her feelings and her emotions. I think this helped clue the reader in to her motivations. But when I read the first draft, I wasn’t moved. I didn’t bond with her. I finally realized that my character looked like this:
That’s right – I didn’t include any information as to my main character’s physical appearance, except for one reference that could have been interpreted to mean she was tall. Here’s another issue where balance is key. Who wants to read a physical description that’s a run-on sentence covering every attribute? Or what about, “she looked just like <insert celebrity name>”?
I’m back to the character drawing board. This time around, maybe I will give her high cheekbones, an easy smile, lightly tanned skin or espresso colored eyes. Or I could grab a dark chocolate bar, kick my feet up onto my desk and make her a dead ringer for Carrie Underwood.