June 21, 2008

Disappearing Characters - On Being a Professional Amateur

It’s with great sadness that I present to you the last of Maya’s series on being a professional amateur. I’m sure it’s not the last time Maya will appear on Constructing Stories. Besides, I do need to start righting my own posts again at some point, right?

Disappearing (or Uni-tasking) Characters
By Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff

Waldo appears in chapter three and has an epic encounter with the villain, saves the day and endears himself to a female protagonist. He then promptly disappears for the rest of the book, while the reader is left to wonder where he went.

This is such a familiar scenario in the manuscripts I see that I begin to suspect the "Where's Waldo?" fad was started by a college level creative writing instructor or a convention workshop coordinator.

Characters are not widgets. By this I mean that they are not convenient objects that you can invent, use, and then discard by simply forgetting about them—sort of literary uni-taskers. Once you've written a character he or she has a certain reality in the reader's mind and in the world you created for the characters to function in. Your reader will think of Waldo as a person, even if to you he is just a convenient way to "off" the head troll.

There are several solutions to this. You might find another way to kill the troll that does not involve inventing a character just for that purpose. Let one of your main characters do it. Or turn Waldo into a multi-tasker. Give him a life. You might find he helps you write a better book. Better yet, back up and take a long look at the structure of your story. If you've had to invent a character for a specific purpose, ask yourself why that is and what it says about your story that once that purpose is fulfilled, the character has ceased to matter to you. Then address that issue.

You may find that the action involving the character:
  1. Is taking place at the wrong time in the story.
  2. Needs to be set up more thoroughly as part of the fabric of the story.
  3. Is not as central to the plot of the story as you thought and can be cut.

Have you enjoyed Maya’s series, “On Being a Professional Amateur?” If so, check out her website at http://www.mysticfig.com/. In the meantime, I’ll be posting a series on how business strategy and writing craft actually may be related. Shocked? Sign up for the RSS so you don’t miss it. And, please let me know how you liked Maya’s series! Thanks!


Sherer said...

I can't wait for how business strategy and writing are related!! Thank you Maya

D Rohn said...

This I find true when I write- it is hard to make characters into more of actual, real, honest people than tools to get the story to happen. This is a very true depiction of that.