My Guest this week is going to touch upon something we find in all the books we read; a factor that can often make or break a novel. Intrigued? Read on... Ladies and Gentlemen...
The Importance of Character Building
This past weekend as Kim and the girls and I were cleaning the house, we had the TV on as background noise. Every so often, I would take a break and watch what happened to be on at the moment. The station was tuned to one of the movie channels that aired the movie, Last Action Hero, billed as a spoof of action-adventure movies. It starred Arnold Schwarzenegger and debuted back in 1993. I call them action-adventure, while my wife refers to them as shoot-em-ups, and of course, I remember watching it, only once, I think.
What I didn’t like about it was the cardboard-type characters. Yes, I understand it was a spoof. I get that. But I don’t like movies with characters who don’t feel: or laugh, or cry, or do anything that I can “connect” with. To me, a character has to connect to the viewer in some way. Has to. There has to be more than bullets flying and bombs bursting and cars crashing. Has to be.
Contrast that with the movie, Stand By Me, a Rob Reiner film based on the Stephen King novella, The Body. No real horror, typical of a King novel. No real bullets flying, though there was one gunshot at a garbage can. But the movie, and the book, had so much more. Honestly, who could not watch that movie and not feel for Chris or Gordy? I remember to this day even as I write this, the audible gasp as the movie shifted to present day and talked about what became of Chris. The movie had characters you cared about, felt with, wept with. The characters, on some level, perhaps many levels, were real to the movie viewer, and real to the reader of the novella.
I think what sets apart good writing from poor writing is character development. Beyond the physical or emotional description the author presents to the reader, the writer makes the reader care about the character. A good and apt writer makes the reader root for a character or despise a character. The reader is able to identify with feelings and with conversations, and sometimes with word choices from the character.
In Lord Of The Flies, tell me you didn’t root for Ralph. Tell me you didn’t , at times, get annoyed with Piggy, or feel sorry for Simon. Tell me you didn’t despise Jack. That’s because William Golding fleshed out his characters and made them real to the reader. They weren’t cardboard cutouts without feelings, without emotions, and these characters evoked strong feelings in the reader, and subsequently in the viewer when the book came to life on screen.
I post to my author page on Facebook regularly, and I recently wrote: If the writer isn't passionate, the reader certainly won't be either. I believe that, but I believe it even more when it comes to characters and character development. A reviewer of the third book in my trilogy, Splintered Lives, wrote, “It was impossible to read these books and not become emotionally connected to the boys. I cried with them, laughed with them, felt their fear and their pain.” That is one of my favorite reviews because as a writer, I strive to make a connection between the words on the paper and the reader who reads them.
Honestly, shut your eyes and think of any book you really enjoyed. Now, I ask you to picture one character from that book. I’m willing to bet you can see that character in your mind’s eye. I’m willing to bet you can hear that character speak. I’m willing to bet that there are times when, not reading that book, you think of that character as you would a friend. That, in all its glory, is character development at its finest. That is quality writing. And I’m willing to bet whoever authored that book, you find yourself seeking other titles by him or her. That, ultimately, is a great review: the reader coming back for more.
For a thriller-mystery writer like me, the challenge can be viewed as even greater, because a thriller needs to do just that: thrill the reader, and the mystery has to present itself to the reader in such a way that the reader tries to guess what is coming next, be surprised in a good way if it doesn’t happen, and perhaps be shocked with the occurring action. But at the heart of it is the character.
In my own Lives Trilogy, there are two characters that my readers say are their favorites: George Tokay, a Navajo boy from the Navajo Reservation in Arizona, and Brett McGovern, an athletic kid from Indianapolis. Both boys “grow up” before the reader’s eyes from age twelve to age fourteen. Both are faced with a series of challenges and the reader is left to wonder whether or not either will survive the next page. For every setback, there is a success. For every tear, there is a smile, and for every heartache, there is joy. But I had to create both boys in such a way that the reader cares about what happens to them. The reader has to walk alongside them as they encounter struggles and pain and sorrow, as well as joy and happiness. It didn’t come easy for me, but in the end, the reader, like you, find pleasure in the reading. And in the end, that is character development.
Joseph Lewis has published four books so far: TakingLives, (August 2014) a prequel to the Lives Trilogy; Stolen Lives, (November 2015) Book One of the Lives Trilogy; Shattered Lives, (March 2015); and Splintered Lives, Book Three of the Lives Trilogy (November 2015), all in the thriller/mystery genre, and each has garnered outstanding reviews. Previously, Lewis published a short story, Dusty And Me (1989). He writes a weekly inspirational blog, Simple Thoughts From A Complicated Mind, Sort Of located at http://jrlewis.blogspot.com .
He can be found on Twitter at @jrlewisauthor and on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/Joseph.Lewis.Author.
His Amazon author page is http://www.amazon.com/Joseph-Lewis/e/B01FWB9AOI/
Lewis has been in education for 39 years as a teacher, coach, counselor and administrator. He is currently a high school principal and resides in Virginia with his wife, Kim, of 23 years, along with his daughters, Hannah and Emily. His son, Wil, is deceased.
Thanks for an insightful post, Joseph. I'm sure many will be bookmarking this for future reference.
Eric @ www.ericjgates.com