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Character development: personality, past, motives

CHARACTER development is a vast and varied subject and the cornerstone of any great fiction. We discussed a lot about characterization last time, with a focus on character's physical description, and saying more with less. This time we're going to focus deeper, and focus in an angle that's only apt for round characters. (To catch up, a round character is a character that is well defined and has different levels of stories from the past and present and future, while a flat character serves as filler and is only fleetingly described, sometimes only physically.) This article's focus will lie on a characters motives, past and personality. These aren't random aspects of a character thrown together; they all serve to answer 'who' this character is.

A character's personality is what makes a reader identify with him or her, it's what makes him more than just a figure in a book. It also determines how a character will react in a given situation. It is probably the most important aspect of character development, because Hannibal Lecture, for example, our favourite cannibal, is an extremely round character, could predictably react to someone being rude to him when it's uncalled for. What we don't expect him to do is hit someone, and strike them down. He's a gentleman. Always get to know your characters better.

Is he the type that would come up with a witty come back, or would he utter a Viking war cry and kick the guy square in the nuts? Your character could do either, and no one would judge him, as long as it is in sync with the character's personality. Maybe he's a quiet and silent boy who would never do such a thing. But then again, maybe he had enough and just did something outrageous for once. If so, make it clear in your writing. Make it clear that the character himself was surprised that he did such a thing, that he never expected to do. The trick is to keep the character's stream of thought synchronized with the audience's. This way the audience remains hooked and is able to easily identify with the character. Many times, you will have to write a few scenes to get an idea of what a new character's personality is like, and that is fine. However, never try to force a character to do what you want it to do. Believe it or not, a character will develop a personality of their own. If you try and force them to do what you want, it will look forced. That is bad writing. Once developed, personality must remain consistent. Though, your character must change, the personality mustn't. If for example you have an evil character, he cannot suddenly become good unless there is a significant change or series of changes. Even then, his basic traits should still be there. In other words, if your character is a rabbi who turns from his way of life, he will still have his rabbi characteristics because that is a part of who he is. Also if your character undergoes a significant change, you must be sure that there is foreshadowing of the change and not make it sudden and painful for the reader to grasp.

Your character must have a back-story. Any writer worth his salt will tell you. Even if you never tell your readers what the back-story is, it must always be there. One of the mysteries of writing is that if you do not have a clear picture of who your character is and where he comes from, the careful readers will be able to tell very easily that something is missing.

Characters have three kinds of past. And it defines who they are. There are those that benefit from the past. They like their past and seek to replicate it. It doesn't matter if they have been taught to be good or bad- the point is that they see no reason to change the way they have been taught to live.
Then there are those that have overcome their past. Please don't play I Will Survive here, if you eventually make a film out of your writing someday. This group of characters hate their past and have changed their ways so as not to 'make the same mistake again'. Again, what they have overcome doesn't necessarily have to be bad. Perhaps your character's father was a good rabbi, and your character hated the things he had been taught.

The third group of characters is damaged goods. They have been affected by their past, but they have not overcome it or been able to move on. These characters are usually very common, and a popular storyline follows such characters on their journey to overcome their past.

The way your character behaves is directly affected by their past. The past may have been five minutes before the story starts or five years. It doesn't matter. You must know where your character has come to write about where they are going. Motives determine what your character does. It is one of the things that will move the story along. All of a character's decisions are directly affected by their motives- they will act according to the goals they have set for themselves. If your character wants to be an engineer, he isn't going to go to an English school. Therefore, you must have a clear picture of what your character wants. Pay attention to, and entertain their wants. Otherwise you'll have trouble brewing in your hands. Same way as happens with your girlfriend. But at least with your girlfriend, or boyfriend, you don't have a bunch of readers following every progress made (unless you over zealousness on Facebook and twitter makes it so). What a character wants directly affects the future. He might get his want he might not. He might get his want and decide he no longer wants it.

There are many things to do with personality, past and motives. They define who your character is, where he comes from, why he is the way he is, and what he might do next, where he could possibly go. These are important things in any great story. Next week will deal with character's speech patterns.

By Ahsan Sajid


THEY say that the city never sleeps. All cities are connected, through an invisible web weaved by their collective-conscious. Cities never sleep.

Cities lie. They lie as much as we do, and they're better at it than us. They very rarely tell the truth. Their lies are refined and sandpapered, covered under multiple layers of truths, false-truths and pretences. They make you feel secure, and they make you feel safe. They whisper to you in the dark of the night. They make you feel at home, and they never want you to leave.

A lot of us figure out the blackened truth, and some of us get to escape their vice grips. And the rest of us fall in love with the unholy entity. Why? Because, in its own horrible, twisted way, it loves us back. It loves us, even though we hate them. In its own sinister way, it's sweet. We are its children. It must protect us.

Day and Night are lies. If you're ever able, look deep within the velvet of darkness and the silk of sunlight, and you'll see the core- its literal golden heart, beating and writhing in a mass of transparent liquid, that's something akin to blood, but definitely isn't. The City lives in you.

Sometimes, things get distorted, somewhere between the darkness of the night and the light of the moon- things get bent, reality twists and turns, fate grins and says, “This is your chance, mortal.”

We ignore the knock, and we live our lives on and on, in the safety and security of our homes, in the Cities of our birth. And each day that we live, each moment that passes, our subconscious mind struggles against the chains that bind us, against our anchors- we weep and wail silently. We hammer against the indestructible chain, hoping that it will break. And it never does. We scream at it until there is no chain and there is no anchor.

We don't live in the city. We make it live in us. There is no City. There was just a barren wasteland, where we found resources to tinker with, using which we made tall structures and called them buildings. We made roads and connected the dots- we breathed life into the non-organic monster entity, and we told it that we are its willing captives. We made the city so that it can hold us, so that it can contain us, our own dark monstrosities. There is no City. There is just a barren wasteland of lies, a hurricane of false emotions, and an illusion of a bittersweet truth, and an inevitability that's inescapable. An accepted lie that's impossible to believe and a life that's an impossible lie.

By Aemulus

Book Review

Assassin's Quest

“We are here, Fitz, you and I, to change the world”
From the moment young Fitz was left at the doors of the Farseer stronghold at the age of six, he has unwittingly precipitated events long foretold by the mysterious White Prophet, known to all in the Six Duchies as King Shrewd's Fool.

Following the abdication of his father, Prince Chivalry, Fitz is claimed by Shrewd and trained as an Assassin, the secret knife of justice wielded by the King. The first book of the Farseer Trilogy creates the setting of the story: the land imperilled by the Red Ship Raiders, the royal court poisoned by intrigues, and Fitz, Chivalry's illegitimate son, haplessly buffeted by fate throughout. The second book tells the story of Prince Verity, who, in a desperate bid to save the kingdom he is to inherit, sets out to seek help from higher powers, and in his absence, his jealous half-brother Regal aims to secure the throne for himself. Putting his king before his own life and love, Fitz must stake everything he holds dear to prevent it.

The finale to this story is a slow fulfilment of an old prophecy, a tale of a heavy price demanded for the salvation of a kingdom. With the old FitzChivalry Farseer dead to all those who knew him, Fitz finally has a choice: to claim a life that was never his own, or to continue as King's Man? The answer is both difficult and painful.

Few authors are so ruthless with their protagonists as Robin Hobbs. We see Fitz repeatedly fail, get beaten to an inch of his life, and with every step, lose some more of himself. We see hope fade for the 'heroes' and 'villain's alike. Taking the glamour out of the narrative, Hobb presents us a gritty tale that serves to illustrate that ultimately, in the grander scheme of things, anyone is expendable. A long, detailed read, this is one you want to peruse with time and patience.

By Sabrina F Ahmad



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