1. yagr
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    yagr Contributing Member

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    Capturing a character

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by yagr, Feb 21, 2014.

    Here is an excerpt from an e-mail that I received Friday from my publisher:

    "I think you’ve captured Josh’s character, and Daniel remains elusive."

    These are my two MC's in the first book of a YA series. A little about my publisher first: Great guy. Forty years in the publishing business and owns his own publishing house. Never has published within the YA genre. Now a little background and to my question:

    Daniel is Josh's mentor and a spiritual behemoth wrapped up in a bohemian cloak. He instructs Josh in the martial arts paying equal attention to his psychological and spiritual conditioning as well. In part two of the book, Josh and Daniel are transported to another plane of existence where they stay with some friends of Daniel's and have, what I sincerely hope are, wonderful adventures.

    I had hoped to explain more of Daniel's character and give more back story in future books. While I certainly did not take my story from The Karate Kid (despite one of the main character's being named 'Daniel'), I'm reminded of this movie and how more and more of Mr. Miyagi's story and character was developed as the second, third and fourth movie came out. Is it necessarily wrong to leave some mystery on the table? I suddenly thought of the Harry Potter books and how more and more of the characters were revealed as the series continued - or even the Narnia series.

    It seems almost pandering and insulting to the audience to lay everything out at once. Now, that said, I am not so arrogant that I think I know all on this. The doubts and opinion that I hold on this are just that...nothing that I feel married to, but am trying to understand it better. Lastly, at the end of his e-mail to me, the publisher acknowledged his uncertainty regarding his comments, stating that as it was an unknown genre for him, that he may very well be wrong.

    Any thoughts or insight appreciated.
     
  2. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Mystery can be good depending on what the writer is trying to achieve. Is Daniel an important enough character that warrants giving the reader more information? Will the reader miss any important details if you don't give them more information? Those are the sorts of questions I think you should ask yourself.

    By the way, is this book part of a series?
     
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  3. yagr
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    yagr Contributing Member

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    The book is book one in what I hope to be a series, yes. I sent the publisher 30 pages and he asked me for the rest twelve days later. I then sent him the rest of the 102K words along with the first chapter of book 2.

    Daniel is a HUGE character. His protégé is the only one who has a more pivotal role. The reason that I mentioned the '102K words' above was because that's one of the issues I have with the book. 102K words is quite a bit for a YA book and while I have seen many that have more - most are not the first book in a series. Printing is, from my understanding, the publishers greatest financial liability and so, an untried series that begins with 50% or more pages is going to frighten some away who might be on the fence. Fleshing out his character any more does damage to the sense of mystery but it also involves a great many more pages to an already long YA novel.

    I do believe that Daniel is an important enough character to give the reader more information - but doing so in book one simply feels wrong. Very wrong. Again, that's just a feeling and I am not married to them, but without a logical reason for including more info now, I'll go with feelings. To your second question: No, I don't believe the reader misses any important information that they need in the first book by filling in details nw. For instance, it may come out that he was once married to another of the main characters... nice info, explains a lot in retrospect, but not something that will make the book feel odd without. Fan's of the book might say later, after it is revealed, "Oh my god, that makes so much sense!" but it isn't that it failed to make sense before. Does that make any sense?
     
  4. Gallowglass
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    Gallowglass Contributing Member Contributor

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    If you want him to remain elusive and mysterious, make it explicit that's a deliberate part of his character. You can do it subtly, through other character's reactions, observations, etc. or his actions over the course of the book, i.e. he doesn't turn up to social events and behaves irregularly. The reader won't even know you're doing it.

    But the important thing is to not just leave blanks: that would strike someone unaware of your thinking as a failure to put something across, and will make the reader as well as the publisher feel that the character is 'incomplete.'
     
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  5. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Yeah, 102k words is definitely on the long side for a YA book. But since you already submitted your manuscript, it's in your publisher's hands now. Did they ask you how long the book was before you sent them the 30 pages?

    If that's the case, then I think your approach now is fine.
     
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  6. yagr
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    yagr Contributing Member

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    I actually volunteered the novels length prior to sending him the 30 pages. I sincerely appreciate your input.
     
  7. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    One of the ways is to give Daniel an additional subplot. Something in the here and now that he is doing/dealing with on his own. That way, you are developing him as a character and giving him more presence 'on stage' in the first book, while keeping the full extent of his back story for some other time.
     
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  8. Who
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    The mystical teacher of strange and unusual teachings must be mysterious, how could they not be? Plus, not all characters need their backstory to be fully explained. Yoda in Star Wars has done remarkably well with very little known about his 900 years of life.
     
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  9. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    Maybe you don't have to start inserting too much backstory, especially if the character has no POv in this book. (?) Could be that you just need to make him more visual, and you don't need backstory to do that. It's in the little detail you reveal, could be gestures, the way he acts, through dialogue or other things that gives the reader a feeling for what kind of person he is. He can still be mysterious, but the reader need to get a feeling of a real person that they can see and hear. To go back to the karate kid-comparison, we don't know much of Mr Miyagi in that first movie, do we? But still he comes off as very real and unique, because of how he's portrayed. Think about how they did that, how they make you like him without revealing much about him. After all, backstory is not what makes a character come to life. It's more subtle than that. You need to find those details about your character.
     
    Last edited: Feb 22, 2014
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  10. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I'm agreeing with what folks have already said; mystery can definitely be a good thing. I like the ice berg -cliché: you have to know your entire character, the proverbial ice berg, but you show only its tip, especially in the beginning, but even at the end of the story when the reader "knows" the character well, like a good friend, you still know them much, much better, like you'd know your own brother.

    The way I like to go about this is to give the "mysterious" character some traits or something that's tied to their past. For instance, he might, say, have a limp and walks around with the help of shillelagh; but at first you don't reveal why he is limping or why he chose a shillelagh instead of a regular walking stick.
    As the story progresses, eventually the reader learns the limp came from an injury he received as a soldier in combat and he picked the shillelagh as a walking aid because his family was from Ireland and he's proud of his heritage, but doesn't boast about it. You can go even further with that: if his personality is, say, very caring and protective, he might have gotten the injury while protecting civilians from a group of bad guys, for instance.

    This is not the way to do it, though, just a way.
     
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