Some characters are courageous and we as readers want to follow them along on their journey. Other times they’re smart and we admire their wit and tactical prowess. Other times they’re completely absent from the present narrative but still have an effect on other characters. This can fill us, the reader, with a sense of longing, suspense or maybe even fear.
Maybe like Lily from Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees, a character in your current project has lost someone important that they never had the chance to meet. Not only does Lily feel guilt when thinking about her mother, Deborah, due to the hand she had in her death, she spends a portion of the novel lamenting the things she wasn’t able to do because she didn’t have her mother. These thoughts have been with Lily for quite some time but they come to a head as she begins to enter adulthood. This, along with the scene of her cuddling her mother’s memorabilia in the field helps the reader understand just how deep Lily’s longing for her mother runs.
On the opposite end, Scott in David Lubar’s Sleeping Freshman Never Lie, is faced with someone who has yet to come into being. His constant letters and references to his future sibling showcase his nervousness and actually betray his excitement at the prospect of becoming an older brother. As much as Scott may gripe about the changes his future brother caused, he shares his mistakes, fears, heartbreaks, and victories with Sean despite the workload and chaos that comes with his freshman year of high school.
In both of these instances, a person who isn’t there in the present is still a character, revealed through the thoughts and actions of other characters. Debora is made more real through her connection with Lily, T. Ray, May and August, just as Sean is made more real through the actions Scott and his family take to prepare for him. When developing characters, try to think of their relationships with those yet unseen. Our courageous hero is on a quest to defeat the big bad? You can ratchet up suspense through the dialogue and actions of the people your hero meet.
If you’re stuck, I would encourage you to check out these books and see in what ways the authors choose to characterize those who have already passed or those who have yet to come into being. Whether you decide that you want to follow the same plan as either one of these books, create your own, or realize that past/future characters are unimportant, I hope you have a great time writing.
Until next time,
I mentioned in my review of Piper Banks’ Geek High that I initially had a different understanding of it when I was younger. To a younger Jq, Geek High was a modern spin on Cinderella which is part of the reason why older Jq was so disappointed.
From memory, the climax of this book was completely different. Miranda’s knack for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time kicked in and she mentioned that it was weird how Peyton never ate anything, probably at a dinner party or something similar. Her father pulled her aside and mentioned that he’s been helping Peyton recover from an eating disorder and as a result, he says she isn’t allowed to go to the Snowflake Gala. Miranda after all her hard work is genuinely disappointed. Peyton, realizing how hard Miranda worked on the Gala, comes to Miranda’s room, they talk, get to know one another a little better and Miranda gets permission to go.
Personally, I believe that this ending would have been more fulfilling because it shows that Miranda is a flawed character. Yes, you could argue that Miranda’s foot-in-mouth-edness gets her into trouble with Dex, but were there really any consequences? I’m not saying that my suggested ending is amazing but my point is that authors shouldn’t be afraid to let their characters suffer a little bit as it can promote growth and inspire change.
If you were to tell me that Miranda experienced character growth because she made up with her mother and father and became a little friendlier with Hannah, I won’t disagree with you there but I thought that her two biggest conflicts were with Felicity and more importantly Peyton. Had the book addressed this maybe we as an audience could have seen Miranda grow more as a character. Granted, this is a book series and, as such, there is time for Miranda to develop a relationship with Peyton and put her feud (if you could really call it that) with Felicity to rest but it would have been nice to see some of those steps taken in this installment.
It has been said time and time again: to be a great writer, one must first be a great reader. If that’s the case each and every book we read should not only entertain but it should also be a learning experience. That said, what exactly could we learn from reading The Selection?
Well, one issue I had with The Selection was characterization. The Selection has a huge cast, with a whopping 55 named characters*. While it wasn’t hard to keep track of who was who, I kind of wondered what was the point of having all of these characters? Was it really necessary to include America’s aide who helped her to the airport for that one chapter? Were Aspen’s twin sisters even necessary? His little brother was just used as a tool to show how terrible Illea was and to explain why Aspen worked so hard.
Perhaps if some of these roles were eliminated and/or combined, there would be more time to develop some of the other girls in the selection or focus more on world building. I get that at its core this series is America and Maxon’s love story, however, I think it would have been a lot more interesting if we had a sense of competition. I’m not saying that I would have wanted each and every girl to be fleshed out, especially since they’re going to be written out anyway, but there are certainly ways to quickly inject personality and life into characters.
If you’re a writer who has a project with a huge cast of characters, I’d definitely recommend giving this a read. Just as I have certain things that I would change in this book, I’m sure you do as well.
*I tried to be as accurate as possible with all the named characters but I am worried I missed a few. Also, characters who had titles instead of names, like The Queen of Swendway, were included in my count.