1. modus
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    modus Member

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    Creating a full spectrum of characters

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by modus, Mar 3, 2012.

    I'm working on a fantasy novel, and I want to achieve some of what George R.R. Martin did. He creates many characters, and they all fulfill a different sort of "thing" we as readers like in characters. The boy Starks are the heart and soul of the North, Arya is the well-meaning troublemaker, Tyrion is the clever comic relief (and a way for readers to spy on the antagonists), and so on. Now, I understand as an amateur writer that taking on such heavy loads will be very difficult, especially since developing a single protagonist is so difficult in its own right. However, ever since reading GRRM, I'm not satisfied following just one character throughout a fantasy book.

    That said,

    What is a full spectrum of characters, even in books not written GRRM-style? So far I have a post-war veteran (and captain of an airship) feeling lost, a politician trying to enforce a new form of government and struggling because her father was supposed to make that happen, but he was killed in the war, and then some minor characters. I want to add some sort of clever character and keep a fourth spot open for a rotating context-specific "main character." Does this sound like an enjoyable group to follow, or is it missing an element? My plan for the first book was to develop them each individually for a while but ultimately have them join up toward the end (as a crew on an airship) I thought that would be pretty epic.
     
  2. superpsycho
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    superpsycho Contributing Member

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    A lot depends on your ability to develop a character seamlessly as part of the story. Otherwise you can end up slowing the story down with each new character. Beyond that it's a matter of how well you can integrate them naturally as part of the story. Without extreme jumps or shifts in focus or time.
     
  3. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    For what it's worth, the spectrum of characters is what I _don't_ like about George R. R. Martin's books. While I like many of the characters, and would be delighted to read a story that has any one of several as a main character, the constant shifting means that I get only a brief and shallow-feeling visit with each character. I also sometimes feel that each one is assigned a "role" and is forced to remain within the constraints of that role. I'm left hungry, not in the sense of eager for more, but in the sense of wanting to leave and go on to somebody else's buffet. :)

    The only character that I find fully satisfying is Tyrion, I suspect in part because Tyrion _does_ break out of the constraints of his role. He is both good and bad, both empathetic and selfish, both... well, all sorts of things. So I'm opposed to having a lot of characters, each of whom is designed to fulfill some "thing". Every person has a lot of "things", and I want to see several in a single character. That doesn't mean that you can't have several characters, but when they're carefully created and tinkered with to fulfill some predetermined role, I think that they cease to be really interesting characters.

    ChickenFreak
     
  4. modus
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    modus Member

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    Well right now I'm banking on action and novelty to hold the reader's interest while I introduce these new characters. It feels like I can't really push the main arc forward until I've put all my pieces on the chessboard.

    Yes, I know exactly what you mean by the constant shifts. GRRM typically has like 5 story arcs going on at once. I want to condense that to 3, and I want them to feel so full that a separate novel could be written on each of their arcs and still feel satisfying.
     
  5. colorthemap
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    colorthemap Contributing Member

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    There is nothing wrong with multiple characters. Yet I do think that multiple plots(beyond two parallels or soon to be related arcs) get in the way and can actually ruin a story. You did yourself into a hole when you start with say five different plots as you will have to converge them at the end or claim to have written an anthology. What I recommend is to write one plot line introducing a character you think would be interesting with its own arc and then work backwards to write how they got there. With this you will end up with two concise and well thought out plots that should be easy enough to follow and yet expansive enough to give you what you want.


    If you want more than two I would suggest that you do something similar. For what you do not want is to have weakly connected story arcs dancing around the pages of your novel. Think of the connecting point and work backwards. Unless of course you want to spend a lot of time planning minute details. Or perhaps it could be interesting a to see where the paths intersect after you write the story? I dunno, your story man all I can give is my advice.

    tl;dr: Think of the plot merging point before you write the separate branches.
     
  6. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I found with my large cast and grotesque number of subplots the easiest way to keep it under control was to feed it through one main character.

    That way despite having about seven or eight subplots they all got fed through the main plot and formed part of it. Writing intimate scenes to give each character air time is essential. Which is were having a first person narrator helped - I tried to give them all one on one time with him and all the emotions and opinions were his.

    Listen to Dolly Parton songs: like ''Me and Little Andy'', ''Jolene'', ''Joshua''. ''To Daddy'', ''Backwoods Barbie'', ''Applejack''

    She has a Shakespearean ability to introduce a character in a short number of words, to round them out and give them depth. Study how she does and it will help give each character a solidity and feeling of belonging to that world.
     
  7. modus
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    modus Member

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    That's a simple idea I hadn't thought of. It would force me to develop the whole of the story instead of "kind-of sort-of" knowing the direction I want to take as I write. I mean it's really fun to have a general direction, and see where my imagination leads me as I write, but probably not the smartest idea for a cohesive story. Good advice IMO.


    Yeah, GRRM did that with the Starks. I've written two chapters and looking back on it, it's clear that I want the first chapter's character to be the main, but that wasn't my intent upon first writing it. I think he could make a great fantasy-era Clint Eastwood type of guy, so maybe I'll roll off of that notion. Hopefully I can figure a way to make him "my own" though.
     
  8. colorthemap
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    colorthemap Contributing Member

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    Thanks and glad I could help, just remember just because you read it in a certain understandable plot structure does not mean you have to write it the same way.
     
  9. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm serious about studying Dolly lol she is a genius with characters. The one thing feedback on my work is consistent with (even people that hate everything else) is I have good well rounded characters and give the readers an intimate relationship with them. My opening paragraphs have had more that one acquistions editor interested because of it. Everything I know I learned listening to her songs and reading Shakespeare (but she is easier to study).

    With complicated plots, and large casts it is a good idea to keep everything else simple. Language, description etc because a reader has enough to focus on without needing to check a dictionary or reread a paragraph to understand it.
     

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