Wednesday, September 21, 2011

An Observation On Character Development

STATUS: It's such a gorgeous day in Denver. I'm ready to pop out early and take Chutney for a long walk.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? WALK ON THE WILD SIDE Edie Brickell & The New Bohemians

This weekend I did my first SCBWI conference. For those of you unfamiliar with the acronym, it stands for the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. I just had a blast.

As I've done in the past, I did my 2-pages or First pages workshop where writers submit their opening pages, it gets read aloud, and I say yay or nay--would I have read on and why.

This time, I had something happen that has never happened before. My reader chose the first three at random and read them aloud. I would have read on for all three.

That's rare. I've given this workshop a dozen or so times and I've usually found only one submission that I would have read further on. 99.9% of what we see isn't quite ready for an agent to review. By the way, this is not to stay it will never be ready. Just that it wasn't quite there in this incarnation.

Trust me, I don't want to stomp on writers' dreams!

For this workshop, I noticed a couple of beginning writer mistakes that I haven't really talked about yet so I thought I would tackle some.

Beginning Writer Mistake: Opening scenes that make it clear that the writer has not thought through the character's backstory and history before writing the scene.

What do I mean by this? I can tell from reading the scene that the writer is simply trying to create an exciting opening and if the writer had stopped to think about it, there is no way the characters would react as written if the characters had a clear history with either the other character in the scene or to the event.

For example, a Grandma loves to drive fast, in direct opposition to most people's perception of how a grandmother would drive. So the writer wants to show this quirky trait and thus writes an opening scene from the grandchild's perspective who is reacting wildly to the grandmother's driving.

However, if the character is often driven by her grandmother, she'd be used to her Nana's rather erratic speed demon driving habit. So given that history, she wouldn't react dramatically to it; it would be normal.

Do you see what I mean? The writer should approach the scene with the above assumption. Now the writer can still have this opening erratic driving scene but the grandchild character's reaction would be written differently with this history in mind.

And if it's the first time the grandmother has ever driven that character, then that would need to be made clear and then the character could react dramatically. The scene would then work.

But I often see slush pile submissions where it's clear to me that the writer hasn't quite gotten knowledgeable about his or her characters before jumping in to writing scenes about them.

Just another writing tip to keep in mind!