Monday, March 5, 2012

Giving Characters Their Arc

I'm always hesitant when it comes to a Dramatis Personae list anywhere in a book. What it means to me is this: there are too many characters to handle. It means there are too many threads to follow through to a full conclusion. It means that there is so much information gathered in the text of a novel that you need notes in order to understand it.

Generally, this turns me off.

And George RR Martin has a loooooong cast list at the back of his books.

When I picked up A Game of Thrones, I was very nervous about it. My brain didn't seem up to the task of handling such a large group of people. And, honestly, if I hadn't seen and fallen in love with the HBO series, I would have been beyond lost. It took a while to put the names with the characters for me - even with the visuals provided by the television series.

However, I was greatly, greatly impressed with how Martin handled his characters. After a little effort, they were easy to track and follow.

I think the ease of adjustment came from how Martin created complete arcs for each of his characters - especially in A Game of Thrones, the first book in the series. And the best example is of  Daenerys, the exiled heir to the Iron Throne, in this case. She goes from a child, with a child's sensibilities at the beginning of the book, to a believable leader of nations by the end.

This arc for Daenerys is so complete that Martin lifted her sections bodily out of A Game of Thrones and created a whole novella: "The Blood of the Dragon." It proceeded to win a Hugo award.

Daenerys's story can be marked Point A to Point Z in A Game of Thrones.

SPOILERS!:
She is an innocent married into a barbarian horde, she learns to fight and love within that horde, she faces down her bullying brother, is faced with the death of her child and husband, confronts and kills the person who murders her child and husband, and then hatches dragons...earning her heir-to-the-throne rank rather than just having it handed to her. Pretty badass.
END SPOILERS!

I've never tried to lift a whole storyline based on one character before, but that's probably a good exercise for revision -

Here's what I've come up with...

Pick a character, any main or semi-main character in your story. Find all of his/her scenes. Pull them out (i.e. copy and paste them into a new document). Read it through. Does it read as a whole story? Is there a beginning, a middle, and an end? Is there some kind of growth cycle or does he/she remain painfully unchanged all the way through? Adjust accordingly.This also strikes me as a useful revision technique because it forces you into some distance from the main plotline sometimes. And in order to revise gracefully, we all need some space from the original story.

What do you guys think? Have you allowed your characters their full development? Have you decided that not all characters will get a full development? (Because that's totally legit too.)

1 comment:

  1. This is a great exercise, and great for me, because I'm gearing up to revise :-) Thanks for this pointer!

    Writing a series makes this character arc business more complicated. But I try to have the people in my book see at least some sort of change as a result of the events.

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