View Full Version : Character Development
September 6th, 2002, 03:08 PM
I'm presently gripped in a bit of a quandry and was hoping someone here could help out.
The problem is this, I'm writing a short fantasy story for publication (the word limits 7,000 words or so). I have always regarded the development of characters as a vital part to any succesful story and in this case my lead character undergoes a very dramatic transformation indeed.
However, given the low word limit (at least by my usual standards it's low), I'm not sure that the reader will have long enough to acquaint themselves with the character sufficiently, in order to appreciate the changes.
How long do you think the reader has to know a character to develop an affinity? Should I forgoe the whole notion of having the character change altogether (it is not strictly necessary)? Is character development really so important?
Anyway, enough rambling questions. Thanks in anticipation.
September 6th, 2002, 03:57 PM
Word limits - argh!
I understand your plight. Suddenly this forces a constraint on something many of us do simple because of the freedom offered by it. Unfortunately, publishers don't have an infinite amount of room, nor an infinite amount of time to read, so somewhere a balance has to be reached.
To me character development is a very important part of a story - especially when I am trying to drive it based on the changes to the characters. With a lot of my work this kind of thing isn't fat that can be cut out - it's like a spinal cord - without it the story is unable to move anywhere.
I think the trick is to develop the character by getting to the point very quickly. Consider for example this line: "My name is Robinette Broadhead, in spite of which I am male" (Gateway by Frederik Pohl). With one line we already can imagine this character living a life of torment and ridicule. Of all the things to tell us at first - he feels it necessary to assert that he is male.
Think of ways to "show" who your character is, rather than "tell" about what has happened to him and weave those into the plot. This will conserve space and get the reader to think a little more - both of which will improve the story.
Something else you may want to consider though is that you maybe you just have a 10 000 word story. In my opinion, sometimes it's best to find a suitable market for the story, rather than altering the story to fit the market.
September 7th, 2002, 12:35 AM
Read my thread, http://www.sffworld.org/forums/showthread.php?s=&threadid=3275
I wrote an 8000 or so word story, and a mag wanted me to tell it in half the words. That's their choice and I repsect it. owever, I write short stories that have character development and plenty of description. It would not be my writing if I limited myself.
You've just got to write your way, try to keep the story tight (within reason), and find a magazine that doesn't mind them that way.
September 7th, 2002, 02:37 AM
7000 words is a lot to play with.
Personally I don't like writing a story of 1000 words or under. But 2500 to 5000 I can handle well.
It is all a matter of discipline of cutting the amount of words. Making each word count and mean something.
This is a section from a story I am working on... it isn't a short story. But I wanted to establish certain facts about the main character as one section 4000 words or so, is a story within a story.......
Total words 229. You have a physical description, state of mind, place and life style......
"I wake sticky eyed. In my sleep I had curled into a ball on my left side, my arm, numb, aching deep into the pit and across my chest. But my head is clear and drives me from my stained rumbled sheets. My hand snakes out for the packet of cigarettes on the bedside table and I light one, drawing in the smoke. Then I stub it out with a curse.
Stripping off my layer of clothes I walk into the bathroom. The day is well advanced. I can hear the rumble of traffic in the street below, the city’s arteries working as sluggishly as mine.
The bathroom light still blazes, shedding light on the soap-limed chaos. I step into the shower and turn on the water. The fine spray soaks the grey streaked brown hair exaggerating the bad cut. I take the bottle of shower gel and lather it down the forty something body. The white foam outlines the slightly sagging breasts and domed stomach and the thighs now too wide for narrow legged jeans.
Not much of a bargain my mind’s case. Four or five not very careful owners, slightly abused by alcohol and drugs, not the medicinal kind, which is all it has now. The heart over-taxed and damaged by stress and life. Not much of a deal and unwanted by any these past five years."
September 8th, 2002, 01:59 AM
I think 1st or 3rd person comes into it. I would think 1st person stories would generally be shorter. Also, style makes a big difference, and style should not be stifled.
September 8th, 2002, 03:29 AM
Writing within a word limit is good for you as a writer.
I truly believe this, yes indeed.
Some people believe that adhering to a word limit stifles the creative flow and drive of their writing. In my opinion this is not so. It forces you to think, to be more creative and widens your grasp and knowledge of the English, or what ever other language you write in.
Why use a paragraph, when a sentence will do and why a sentence when a word? Attempting to write within set boundaries strengths you as a writer. It also challenges you.
To through up your arms and say, “it is not me, I can’t write like that.” Is refusing to learn and grow. And life, this life we have been given, is all about learning and growing.
To learn to control your writing is a good discipline to learn, as it is in other aspects of life. It is like driving a car or cooking a meal. There are times when one has to limit one’s speed and follow the recipe. Then there are times you can put the pedal to the metal and throw the ingredients in when you please.
The problem arises when you haven’t or won’t learn this. It doesn’t help your writing or your driving ;) and the food tastes horrible.
Style and 1st and 3rd person.
Style is something that you either set out to create or it creeps up on you without knowing. Being “wordy” is not style, it is just using to many words and we are all guilty of that. If you have a “style” then it can be recognised in just a few words. You can’t confuse Janny Wurt’s with Tolkien’s or Martin’s or Terry Brook’s
Personally I don’t think I have a style, it is not something I have ever given much thought to. Others think I have and can see it is various pieces short or long.
In the main 1st is used for shorter pieces and 3rd for longer but it is not a golden rule and often authors break it to very good effect.
Sorry this sounds like a rant, but to say I can’t is something I don’t like hear folks say. You never know until you have tried. It’s like saying I only wear black, when who knows you could look stunning in flame red!
September 8th, 2002, 06:42 AM
Thanks for the thoughts guys.
Adhering to word limits when I'm writing fiction is not something I've ever had too much of a problem with (years of academic discipline has honed that edge). I agree entirely Holbrook that word limits give a disciplined focus to a story.
My original question wasn't so much whether I should sacrafice character development on the alter of brevity, but rather what degree of development is permissible within the confines of a short story? Obviously the reader has to be allowed time to acquaint themselves with the character initially; otherwise any changes will become meaningless as the character seems perpetually to be in a state of flux.
For instance, consider the changes Bilbo undergoes between the hobbit and LOTR under the influence of the ring. Without becoming attatched to the original Bilbo the differences in his personality are immaterial as that is simply who he is. The same is true when killing off a character, you have to have had time to actually care.
Is it then over-ambitious to attempt to create complex character dynamics, about which the reader will actually give a tinkers cuss, within the constraints of a short story?
September 8th, 2002, 12:22 PM
It may depend on the story, whether it's one that focuses on the character or the world or the events that occur. Sounds obvious - but, for example, a lot of SF is about an idea - something that happens - and the characters are secondary. Of course that isn't necessarily a good thing, but it is worth thinking about what 'type' of story you're writing. In a short story it may not be that easy(but of course not impossible), for example' to have an 'idea' story with a lot of character development.
It sounds like you want to write stories that focus on character development - and I think such a thing is certainly possible in a short story. If the story is good enough the reader will care about your protagonist from the beginning and it will be possible to show significant change in the character. You may want to consider where in the story the change occurs - does it happen subtly or suddenly? Will it be a big change or just a little one? Does the character decide to change or do circumstances dictate it? Is the change for good or bad?
I think lots of changes could get annoying and distance the reader from the character but anything else should be fine.
It's not over-ambitious at all to 'to attempt to create complex character dynamics, about which the reader will actually give a tinkers cuss, within the constraints of a short story' - it's what publishers want you to do, it's what will sell your work.
Go for it and good luck!
September 9th, 2002, 07:24 AM
This is a fairly generic answer without knowing the specifics.
You needn’t necessarily always go into a lengthy history or prologue, of a character to introduce him to the reader. You can develop him as the story develops by his reactions and thoughts to the world and people around him.
This can tell the reader more about his current state of mind (especially of he’s about to go through a major transformation) than his past.
Inserting remarks (whether thoughts or spoken) from your character may help to convey his personality and any subsequent changes to it, during the story and cut out the need for pre-story character building.
Just a thought.
All the best BTW, K.
September 9th, 2002, 10:00 PM
“How long do you think the reader has to know a character to develop an affinity?”
It varies. A talented writer can create that affinity almost immediately. Most readers will want to like/hate your character, that’s why they’re reading the story. Editors are a little bit harder to convince. :)
“Should I forgo the whole notion of having the character change altogether[?]”
I suppose that, for a short story, it isn’t absolutely necessary for characters to grow. For a novel, I believe character growth is quite necessary. But this is a short story.
This question is completely plot dependent. For some plots, growth would be needed, others, not so much.
Please understand that character growth and character development are very different things. Character growth is when the character ends with a different outlook than he/she began, usually from some type of life changing event. Character development is where the writer presents a character to the reader in a way that makes the reader understand the character.
“Is character development really so important?”
With the above in mind, yes character development is vital to any story. Character development can be done in a number of subtle ways. Consider what major attributes the reader needs to know and work them into the story. Don’t pound these attributes into the reader. Trust the reader’s intelligence.
“Is it then over-ambitious to attempt to create complex character dynamics, about which the reader will actually give a tinkers cuss, within the constraints of a short story?”
In my humble opinion, no. However, the literary masters could create “complex character dynamics” in amazingly few words.
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