Wednesday, December 17, 2008


character--individuals in stories who want things, cause things to happen, have things happen to them, have expectations and attitudes. A character's passport into a story is issued on the basis of the things wanted and expected as well as that character's special abilities. A thorough baggage search is indicated against the possibility that the character may be passive.

Characters may be classified into four major groups, protagonist, antagonist, messenger and examples, and pivotal. Protagonists have agendas which they attempt to realize; antagonists attempt to stop protagonists from realizing their goals. These are the front-rank characters. Messenger characters bring news from other characters onto the page, while exemplary characters demonstrate to the other characters and readers conditions and circumstances that might befall front-rank characters. Pivotal characters are those whose allegiances may shift from one side or group to another because of events within the story.

Things to remember about characters during the revision process:

1. They want to act and react.
2. They do not appear in a scene in order to emote.
3. They may lie to themselves.
4. They may lie to each other.
5. They may lie to the reader. (Notable example: Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen. "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife." It is no such thing.)
6. A character in a story is to a real person as dialogue is to real speech. A character acts and then thinks; a person thinks ad then acts.
7. Characters are the causal instruments by which events take place.
8. Character represents a critical mass of:
9. Characters are defined by the ways in which they respond to and cope with obstacles.
10. Characters enter every scene with some expectation
11. Characters enter every scene having come from doing something else.
12. Even reflective characters such as Hamlet are essentially persons of action.

Questions to ask of your dramatis personae during revision:

1. Are there any duplications? Could two similar-sounding individuals be combined into one
2. Do they truly advance or complicate the story?
3. Do they earn their keep in other ways such as providing obstacles or temptations or even opportunities for the protagonist or antagonist to discuss plot issues with?
4. Do they have dimension?
5. Do they have a weak spot?
6. Might they be tempted to change loyalties?
7. Do the front-rank characters undergo change and/or an awareness of a previously unrecognized moral choice or issue?
8. Do you, the writer, beat up on the antagonists with adjectives and adverbs; do other characters treat them as though they were lepers? Any chance they have become evil for evil's sake?


Matt said...

Another good synopsis of the revision process.

Question (possibly neurotic): I know, from previous posts, that you use both a fountain pen and a Moleskine notebook. I *used* to use a fountain pen w/ said notebook, but I noticed that the ink either smudged very easily or absorbed into the paper in a rather messy way. Do you experience these issues? I wonder if it was the ink, or perhaps the nib...regardless, I set the fountain pens aside. If you have any light to shed, I'd be curious.

Matt said...

Thanks for the info, Shelly. I will definitely check this out. I currently have an inexpensive, Fisher-Price-y Pelikan and a vintage Esterbrook - neither I imagine are probably best for the task I'm setting myself.

My only fear is becoming obsessed with fountain pens (again) and becoming "one of those writers" who, say, insists on typing their manuscripts on an old Corona - not because it's better, but that it makes them feel "like a writer". Yuk.

Matt said...

Yes, I should re-enlist my army of fountain pens - raise them from the dead via necromancy as it were. I wonder if the quality of the Moleskine paper has decreased, thus my issue with ink smears.

Though sacrilegious to admit in this conversation, my default non-fountain pen is the Sanford Uniball (fine).

Querulous Squirrel said...

Perfect example of Shelly's post. Question, then, is Matt's antagonist the quality of pen or notebook? Much tension and suspense ensues.

Matt said...

Har-dee-har, squirrel. By the state of the nib on one of the Esterbrooks, I would say I've found (#5) a weak spot which may force me to (#6) change loyalties.