1. Screwball

    Screwball New Member

    Jan 2, 2018
    Likes Received:

    Developing and Describing Characters When They are Not Present in a Scene

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Screwball, Jan 2, 2018.

    For Example:
    In a previous short story, I found I had particular difficult describing a character without them being in a scene.
    With a page/word limit, I found It hard to develop a strong relationship between two characters when one of said characters was absent from a sizable part of the story. It felt like all I could do was have Character A talk about how he felt about Character B, and describe Character B, because there was very little time to have Character B develop their own character.

    I hate saying things like "She's so incredibly kind" or " I know he cares about you.", but when the character isn't in the scene, its hard to show that.

    As someone much newer to writing, I really struggle with this. In a short story specifically character development is difficult for me, and in this kind of situation, its especially so.

    Any help is much appreciated.
  2. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributor Contributor

    Aug 23, 2013
    Likes Received:
    Welcome to the site!

    Maybe something that's happening reminds the present character(s) of something specific that the absent character has said or done?

    My own Villain Protagonist Work in Progress (WIP) has one of the protagonists absent for most of the story: Amy had just walked out of robbing a bank when it was destroyed by a bomber, and her best friends Alec (first-person narrator) and Charlie (main character) are shown to be devastated that she's unconscious in a hospital bed with every chance of not waking up.

    There's one scene where Alec learns that the infamous serial killer BTK's real name was Dennis Rader:

    Was that BTK’s real name? Awesome! I’ll have to ask Amy about Dennis Raider if – when, when she wakes up. I will have to ask her about Dennis Raider when she wakes up. Like if his name really is spelled “R-a-i-d-e-r” or if I’m just hearing it wrong. That’d be the perfect serial killer name if ever there was one. Not that “Amy Carmine” has a bad ring to it either.​
  3. izzybot

    izzybot (unspecified) Contributor

    Jun 3, 2015
    Likes Received:
    SC, USA
    Couple thoughts:

    I shy away from informed characterization. You want your character to actually seem kind, not to just tell the reader that they're kind. Actions speak louder and all that. So is there any way you can get this character onscreen more / sooner and let them speak for themself? If it's important, it's important. Other aspects of story could always be sacrificed for the greater good. (Unless this character's absence is the point, of course.)

    That said, focusing less on who the absent character is and more on what they mean to the character who's around is probably more effective. That way there's no informed characterization - it's just about how the POV character feels. In one of my wips the narrator's boyfriend is offscreen until the very end, but the narrator frequently misses him, thinks about what he'd say or do in the situation for guidance, reflects on how the current situation resembles past ones, etc. You get a vague sense of who the boyfriend is, but the really relevant bit - how close their relationship is, what they share with each other - comes through loud and clear.

    So, consider if you can avoid the problem entirely, and when you can't (/ it's a feature not a bug) try to avoid informed characterization and focus on your narrator + their relationship to the absent character instead. My 2c.
  4. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

    Jul 7, 2016
    Likes Received:
    Read more short stories. The masters do it quite wonderfully. And I believe the way to writing better and working out issues like the one you're having is to read more and better things. Good luck.
  5. Vince Higgins

    Vince Higgins Senior Member

    Jan 3, 2018
    Likes Received:
    33°11'20.91"N, 117°18'10.34"W
    Currently Reading::
    Re-Read of Alta California. Non-fiction travel/history by Nick Neely.
    I am not a big fan of daytime soap operas, but it would be instructive to pick one at random and watch it for a week. By the end of the week, or sooner, you will be fully caught up in the entire story arc. They are written to expose as much of the details of characters not in a particular scene as possible.
    Shenanigator likes this.
  6. Azuresun

    Azuresun Senior Member

    Mar 25, 2017
    Likes Received:
    I'd suggest describing a specific example of when the absent character was kind, caring or whatever. Saying "I remember when Pete dived into the reservoir to rescue that drowning child." will stick in the mind more than "He's brave."
    Simpson17866 likes this.

Share This Page

  1. This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register.
    By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies.
    Dismiss Notice