Character Development

I’ve been going through a minor writing crisis the past few days–feeling very down on my writing in general. (This seems to happen fairly regularly with me, not frequently, but it can be depended to pop up every couple of months.) A friend sent me an email with an excellent suggestion: I need to make sure my characters really shine through, and not just focus solely on “what happens next” all the time. In response to her, I wrote this:

Thank you very much for your comments. They reflect something I’ve been thinking about, as well. All the shows and books I know and love are all character driven. I watch or read them not so much for the “what happens next” aspect, but for the “what happens to ___________ next” bit. I think in my books, I’ve always been so focused on having the characters DO things all the time, that I never take the time in the book to have them be themselves. It’s sort of like the difference between calling up a friend and having an agenda of what to talk about–I need to cover X, then Y, then Z, then I’m done and hanging up–instead of just letting it flow. I also think that might be why the first chapter felt like it worked pretty well, whereas the subsequent chapters have been getting progressively off. (Not the only reason by any means, but a big one.) Looking back at my books, I very rarely let characters think much (if at all) about things. They’re there to get things done and get on to the next plot point. Ironically, I think some of this might be because of all the workshopping I’ve done. So often in a workshop environment, I feel driven to have something significant happen in each chapter–to always be advancing the plot. But of course there are more ways to advance the plot than to just . . . advance the plot.

This makes me think of how Disney used to approach songs in their movies. They had a rule that each song needed to advance the plot, but often the songs accomplished that by establishing dreams and motivations. “Part of Your World,” “A Whole New World,” Belle’s intro song–all of them don’t exactly do much as far as literal plot advancement goes, but they all are important and memorable, and they help us know who these characters are and why we should care.

But how do I do that?

I don’t know–I struggle with knowing when the right time is to delve into my characters’ emotions, so the end result is I never really go there. I know this is stupid, and I need to figure out how to do it right–any pointers?

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