Characters: The Soul of a Novel
A good character will almost write your own novel for you, will make your story come alive. An example of this is Durksen (Durk) Hurst, aka Dark Horse, in my forthcoming novel, The Lies That Bind (TouchPoint Press, November 2015).
In last week’s blog, I wrote that, in writing a novel, you should make sure you know what your major characters want or, if they’re conflicted like Hamlet, why they’re confused. Then make their actions true to their inner motivation. In this way, your characters will become real people, will even initiate actions that may surprise you and breathe authenticity into your story.
Complexity Creates Character
Keep in mind: stories are about conflict. The different characters’ interests should clash. Build as much conflict as you can into the story and into every scene: between protagonist and nemesis; even between the protagonist and his/her allies; and conflict within the nemesis’ group. But the story is richer when that conflict comes from within the characters—the plot then feels real, not artificial, trumped up.
No one is simple. A killer may be repulsed by his/her own tendency toward violence. A hero may have grave doubts about his/her ambitions. Ambiguity is the key here—build lots of ambiguity into your tale, into every event and character. In The Lies That Bind, seemingly logical actions propelled by the characters’ own internal contradictions develop into irony, humor, and meaning for the reader.
When Durk Hurst first appears in The Lies That Bind, he is being chased by a mob. Is Durk bad or good? or a real person with inherent complexities? I often describe Durk as a “visionary charlatan,” and that almost contradictory description illustrates the contradictions within Durk himself. As a visionary, he has ideas that he believes will help whole classes of people throughout the South, poor farmers, widows, everyone—and make him rich to boot. But one of these get-rich, help-everybody schemes is why he’s being chased. Durk has his limitations.
Near the beginning of the novel, Durk agrees to a secret partnership with a group of slaves stranded in the Mississippi wilds to build their own egalitarian plantation, with Durk serving as the partnership’s figurehead “white master.” An idealistic scheme, yes; yet a death-defying one. But then Durk’s ambitious urges take over, as he attempts to parlay the partnership’s success into great wealth—incurring enormous, possibly fatal consequences.
Naturally, great tension and cataclysmic actions are generated by Durk’s own flawed character. Like real life, the interests of flawed people colliding with those of other flawed people. And so, history is written.
Next week: Big Josh and Isaac Defy Stereotypes
Watch for the release date of The Lies That Bind!
Celebrating National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in November. A great time to start your own novel! Visit http://nanowrimo.org/