By Gina Burgess
I put a book down to get some water, and found myself praying for one of the characters. Now THAT is character development. He wasn’t even the main character! I needed to analyze it and see why my heart was pricked so by that character.
Georgette Heyer could sometimes elicit in me that kind of involvement in a character, however I haven’t been that captivated by a character since I was a teenager. Since then, of course, I’ve cried over characters and their situations–but I haven’t prayed for one. Was it the situation? Storms invade every character’s life–conflict is what drives, and life storms, no matter what they are, create conflict. Analysis of this character and his situation that pricked my heart was needed.
This is what I’ve discovered so far:
- Uncle Sol, unmarried, industrious, kind, loved his nephew so much he took on his dead brother’s huge debt without his nephew knowing anything about it.
- No customers for months means he can’t make the loan payment, so the creditor has come to repossess his shop and instruments in order to pay the debt.
- Uncle Sol feels a failure.
- Then the nephew’s employer promotes him and sends him far away.
- Kind, generous, loving, Uncle Sol completely breaks down.
- Best friend and nephew intercede for him and beg the employer for help with the debt. The debt problem is solved by nephew’s employer’s son.
- But the much loved nephew leaves and finally word comes that his ship is sunk in a hurricane.
This is the classic Randy Ingermanson plot set up that I’ve read in numerous good books. So what about this particular character made me care so much?
Maybe it is because bad things happen to really good people, and that stirs up empathy for that person. When it happens to characters, we have a natural empathy for the character because we’ve seen/experienced the same problems in real life. Perhaps our caring gene is stirred up by the underdog scenario. Most likely we care because the author has taken great pains to help us intimately know the character.
When people are happy and content in their life just the way it is, when they are blessings to others just because of the way they are and how they live then suddenly circumstance yanks them into a bad vortex, our sense of justice is bruised and we naturally want to intercede for them.
The situation can be something like a happy family doing well, bringing their kids up to love the Lord, and their 4-year-old drowns. We have an affinity for that family, maybe more than at first realized. Everyone has lost someone they loved, but somehow it’s even worse when that someone is a little child.
It is more than heartstrings being pulled to get that kind of involvement stirred up in fiction and creative non-fiction though. Think about why you care about a person. Then think about why you care about a character in a book that you have not written. Are the reasons the same? Different?
The reason a reader keeps turning pages is because said reader cares about what happens next. That axiom applies to both fiction and creative non-fiction. The reader needs to see, hear, smell, taste what he/she is reading about, and in the ideal reading world, readers do this through characters not narrative.What are some characteristics of a character you’ve met in a book (movies do not count) that spurs you to react?
Creative non-fiction writers need this exercise as well.
Think about an instance in your life that has erupted empathy in your heart.
- What was it about the situation that spurred you to react?
- How can you use this to help you develop your own characters?
Share what you’ve learned with other authors. Your insight could mean a breakthrough for a fellow author.
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