I’ve been plugging along with G’desh, and finally got the story out to some readers. You always forget when you ask people to be honest, your ego is going to take a few punches. Or a flurry of blows that would cause Rocky to stumble.
The one glaring error that I really need to fix is my characters are flat. While writing, I could feel this flatness, like there were a bunch of cut outs and now and then you’d see this 3D protrusion.
I’ve been fighting with this issue the past couple days (along with work has been so overbearing I haven’t had time to address edits). Why did it happen, how do I make them matter, and what have I done in the past to make characters interesting?
A friend started an RPG which will be done through email. I started making a character, where I only had to worry about one person, and then it struck me. As I created this awesome prostitute who wanted nothing more in life than to ring herself a noble, become his concubine, and spend the rest of her life sleeping with one man, I understood how to flesh out my novel characters. Treat them all as if they are all the only character I’m working on.
Going back through the story, I’m including more character building scenes, I’m creating more detailed character backgrounds, and there will be a few short stories written so that I have an even better idea of who these individuals are.
This isn’t all I fixed. I also went back and started cutting out characters like a surgeon removing an infected appendix. One of my main characters had an extensive family. I hint towards them in the beginning, but really you meet his mom, stuff happens, and he leaves home never to return. His family is inconsequential. It’s basically just a nod at the fact he wasn’t born magically from the desert and he had a pretty good family life.
I don’t need a half dozen siblings to get the point across. I need a good scene where a sixteen year-old boy interacts with his mother in a way that makes sense. I don’t need his pregnant twin sister, his little brother and sister he watched over, his two brothers who left to be merchants, or the three sisters who were married off. They’re chaff, and I should be able to get out the same point with a quarter of the characters.
By combining and cutting nonessential characters, I’ve been able to give much more focus on the ones in front of me.
At the end of the day, the use of a lot of characters was an experiment. GRRM does it, I wanted to see how it worked out in practice. I learned a lot about how he used multiple POVs and characters compared to how I did. I also realized when your book turns into witty, well-produced, expensive porn on HBO, you get away with a lot more. Some day.
What experiments have you tried? Did they fail or did you succeed? How do you keep your characters alive and well, instead of being flat? Is there something you noticed that would cause characters to flatten?