Thursday, February 25, 2010

Characters and Conflict

Manetti Lane by Glenn O. Coleman--1884 - 1932 My third grade daughter brought a children’s chapter book home from her school library a week ago. The book was about a fifth grader who decides that grades and standardized tests aren’t accurate assessments of children’s abilities and can make students feel stigmatized. The girl decides to make straight Ds on her report card.

I know…my eyebrows went up, too. :)

But she’d picked the book out herself, was excited about the novel, and was reading it carefully to take (ironically) a content test on it through the school’s accelerated reading program.

I read it, too, so I could quiz her on it and help her get prepped for her test.

After she finished the book, she said, “Mama, it was only about the report card. The whole thing! How the girl hated report cards, how she decided to fail her report card, how she had a meeting with her teacher and parents about the report card…then she had a meeting with the principal about the report card…”

She had a good point. The entire book dealt with the protagonist vs. her big conflict. Even the protagonist’s conversations with other characters were solely on the conflict.

And, obviously, that’s important. The whole point of the book is the main conflict facing the protagonist. It needs to create obstacles and confrontations for the character.

But we also need to view the protagonist in other ways:

How does he interact with other people? How does he deal with other conflicts and stresses? What’s he like in his downtime? To get a well-rounded view of a character, it really helps to view the character from other angles.

That’s tricky. You don’t need to go veering off the subject for long periods of time. But short subplots or bits of dialogue with characters on topics other than the main conflict are important to develop our characters.

My sleuths don’t talk about the murder the entire book. The murder is a main focus of the book—the whole reason for the book. But I think readers get a multi-dimensional view of my protagonists through other scenes, too—humorous scenes, scenes where they’re working on a different problem, etc.

If we don’t offer the reader glimpses of other sides to our character? We risk having the characters look flat and having our readers get bored.

How do you show other sides to your characters?

Please pop by tomorrow when Bob Sanchez will be guest blogging at Mystery Writing is Murder on his writing process.