23 December, 2011

Character analysis

So here's something else I'm really bad at: Analyzing the state of my characters and determining if their progression actually makes any sense, or is any good.

I just rewrote a chapter yesterday that involved one character taking a trek through a city, in order to return home after escaping a dire event. The first thousand words of the chapter detailed her trek home, and not a single damn one of them talked about her state of mind, feelings about the traumatic event that had happened to her, what she wanted, or what she felt. I rewrote that section, shortening 1,008 words to 716, by removing and combining several redundant, superfluous descriptions (no, I did not need to say three different ways that people looked at her oddly because her dress was filthy), as well as adding a few character moments, where she expresses new emotions that are a result of her recent trauma.

I'm very proud of myself for realizing this on my own; I've been getting great feedback from a friend, and he's pointed out a number of places where characters (especially this one) have had some traumatic event occur and yet they appear to have no emotional reaction to it. (They do change later on, but the tipping-point moment of change isn't supported by earlier events.) So it was kind of nice to recognize this problem on my own.

Nonetheless, I tend to assume that what I've written characters doing has to be in there. It's difficult to look at an existing action and analyze it objectively: Is this what that character would really do? Is this conflicting with or contradictory to something else they did earlier? Does this action move them toward their goal?

What I really need, I think, is a checklist sorta dealie to help me go through character moments and identify whether they're working properly. Not because a checklist will never miss anything, but because I find that I don't even ask these basic questions when I'm rereading my work. If I can get in the habit of doing this kind of analysis instinctively (and man, it's tedious), it'll end up making my work that much better.

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