The modern fictional character has largely gone the way of the dogs. Call me a cynic.
In my personal opinion, Fifty Shades of Grey was a new low point in modern story telling; in that there was no story to be found besides routine bonking and an over-abundance of adverbs. (Gasped, paled, blushed, groaned…) I read – most – of FSOG. Almost couldn’t bear it, but I had to know what all the fuss was about. The passage that stood out to me the most, and which many others may have overlooked, was when the main character took a long trip in her car. That was literally all that was written there. It looked like this, in a matter of three lines or so:
The MC (main character) got in the car to go to destination X. It was a long trip. MC got to destination X.
She was simply driving on a page. Zero scenery or weather or landmark descriptions.
I believe that fiction should be, and can be, tangible. As close to non-fiction in that realism as possible. This is how readers connect with characters, and the only way. I believe implicitly in BACKSTORY. If I walked up to you in the street and said, “A character in my novel, Nell, is only 22 and she dies in a horrific car accident”, I’m sure most people would agree that a car accident is a gnarly way to go. However, there is nothing much more that I can elicit from you in terms of emotion that that fleeting ‘Oh, shame’ sentiment, because, quite frankly – you have to know someone in order to care about them.
Getting to the nitty-gritty of a character’s makeup is one of the best parts of writing. Every living person has a history, and so should a character. To ascribe details to a character’s life, I focus on building around certain themes: MOTIVES. FEARS. FLAWS. PROBLEMS. GOALS. SECRETS. Subtlety is also a dying art, and is underrated. Secondary characters should be just as colorful and just as alive as MC’s, because we’re all the main actors on our living stages, so how are secondary characters to know that they are not the main characters in their story?
My first, and my eternal inspiration for writing short, powerful word pictures was through the lyrics and music of Joni Mitchell. I quickly learned that she could tell me more about the feeling of living through life than one hundred How-To writer books ever could. The point? She has been there. She is sending back postcards.
I’m not suggesting that everybody has to listen to Joni Mitchell in order to learn the subtle art of the metaphor. I’m simply saying that we need to dig a little deeper than the average mainstream dross we’re fed from every direction in the 21st century – from endless sex-scapades to seen-it-a mile-off punchlines and one-dimensional characters. We need better heroes, to become better writers – to better our readers’ experience.
- Joni Mitchell turns 70. Respect! (utsandiego.com)