Shaping Characters

It’s been a pretty busy week, but I managed to set some time aside and really dig back into my novel. The last two days I’ve spent pondering my book and the setting, thinking about the characters, and making plans for events which will unfold later in the book. I managed to come up with some pretty intriguing ideas, I don’t mind saying, and the chapter that I finished writing tonight sets the stage for what will be one of the pivotal points in the entire book.

I’ve also been very uncertain about introducing the main villain. I’ve read several books (Dune, by Frank Herbert, and many of the adventure novels by Bernard Cornwell) which give the reader a chance to see inside the villain’s mind and get a glimpse of what he’s up to throughout the book. While it definitely adds a certain suspense to the story—the villain plots while the protagonist unwittingly stumbles into his traps, which keeps the reader on the edge of their seat—I am also rather partial to the idea of never seeing the villain at all, and just wondering what he’s up to. I know what’s going to happen, but the reader is kept in the dark. This approach offers the unique hook of surprise, which is something I’ve always enjoyed most when reading a book myself.

For the time being, I’m settling on giving the reader a peek into the villain’s world, and hopefully this will be a chance to expand on some really pretty vile characters. I’ve never written a villain before—at least, not one nearly this refined—and it’s given me a set of new challenges which I found I wasn’t quite prepared for.

In my preparation over the last two days, I learned that I’d need at least three new characters to make the plot work, which put me in a bit of a pickle. I’m at twenty one central characters now, and I’m running out of original, compelling personalities for them all. I’m already concerned that my protagonist is simply a two-dimensional projection of myself, and he’s the character I’m most familiar with. So I put on my thinking shoes and did some research.

A quick search on Google revealed a host of websites aimed at helping authors with just my problem. While I don’t like the idea of falling into predictable patterns, the notion of a pre-set archetype is very appealing. I’m already on board with the whole “Hero’s Journey” concept, so applying established archetypes is really just the mortar between the bricks.

I found this website to be immensely helpful: http://www.musik-therapie.at/PederHill/Good_Links.htm . There was a lot of good information there, and it helped answer quite a few questions I was having about creating dynamic, well rounded characters. I know this is something every author struggles with, and I’m just beginning to get to that point in my book where all the characters have been introduced, and now it’s time to start fleshing them out. I’ll probably pick up one of the books it recommended on the topic and see how far that gets me. Where developing your characters is concerned, it really seems like there’s no bad avenues to explore, and I’m hoping before long I can start populating this world of mine with some feeling, breathing, emotional beings that will pluck your heart strings into picking up the sequel.

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