Welcome today to Emma Right, author of Dead Dreams, on the importance of character development in stories.
This issue really depends on the type of story and who it’s written for. Some fiction are more plot-based, whilst others focus more on characters; and this has a lot to do with the target audience the books are aiming at.
Charles Dickens’s books, for instance are more about character development, and I love the intensity of how he builds his characters in Bleak House, for example. But truly, most kids these days would probably yawn their jaws off till they unhinged if they had to go through this classic. So, perhaps in this day and age, with the internet and everything moving at the press of a button, such a deliberate manner of character development might not sell to its audience as it did a hundred years ago–not that I am a hundred years old, mind you.
When I wrote my debut book, an adventure fantasy, Keeper of Reign, I had to cut out much of the world building and focus more on action as my target audience was of the younger age group–ten to fourteen-year-olds, and I figured they would not sit through a book if nothing much was happening by way of action and something always lurking around a dark corner.
That’s not to say the characters in Keeper of Reign were static, but only that even though the children in the story learned some important lessons, (being young they still had more to grow,) their character development is not as pronounced as, say, a protagonist who would have to re-evaluate all she held as truth at the beginning of the book by the time the end is reached–as the character Brie O’Mara had to go through in my latest book, Dead Dreams.
Things got a little different with this young adult psychological thriller.
Brie O’Mara, the main protagonist, and Sarah McIntyre, the anti-hero, began with certain tendencies and motivations and as the story unfolds the reader gets a sense of how their desires shaped their decisions and their actions. Behind the mask of clean living and having led a sheltered life, Brie O’Mara hid a dream to become something bigger than what her present circumstance allowed her. By the end of the novel she’d come to realize things she’d never considered at the beginning, or even in the middle of the book and this would impact her future in ways she’d never imagined. So, there’s huge character development in Dead Dreams, and it was necessary, given it’s theme and the plot. How much did Brie O’Mara grow at the end? I’d say a lot and yet, not so much, too. Because she hasn’t really found out why things led to the street she found herself on–the dead-end street, so to speak.
So, back to the issue of character development in a story—would it make or break a novel? Lovers of Sherlock Holmes, or Agatha Christie’s books will say, not much, since Sherlock was very much the same intelligent being at the beginning as he was at the end, because the movement of the story depended on the plot. Same with Miss Marple and Hercules Poirot.
What is more important than character development, is to start off with rounded characters–with the propensity to choose good or evil, having endearing and also annoying traits, not unlike us real people– in the first place. How much the character matures depends a lot on who the book is for, and how much there is to learn from the circumstances each personality in the novel faces in the plot.
Eighteen-year-old Brie O’Mara has so much going for her: a loving family in the sidelines, an heiress for a roommate, and dreams that might just come true. Big dreams–of going to acting school, finishing college and making a name for herself. She is about to be the envy of everyone she knew. What more could she hope for? Except her dreams are about to lead her down the road to nightmares. Nightmares that could turn into a deadly reality.
It started on a warm April afternoon. Gusts of wind blew against the oak tree right outside my kitchen balcony, in my tiny apartment in Atherton, California. Sometimes the branches that touched the side of the building made scraping noises. The yellow huckleberry flowers twining their way across my apartment balcony infused the air with sweetness.
My mother had insisted, as was her tendency on most things, I take the pot of wild huckleberry, her housewarming gift, to my new two-bedroom apartment. It wasn’t really new, just new to me, as was the entire experience of living separately, away from my family, and the prospect of having a roommate, someone who could be a best friend, something I’d dreamed of since I finished high school and debuted into adulthood.
“Wait for me by the curb,” my mother said, her voice blaring from the phone even though I didn’t set her on speaker. “You need to eat better.” Her usual punctuation at the end of her orders.
So, I skipped down three flights of steps and headed toward the side of the apartment building to await my mother’s gift of the evening, salad in an á la chicken style, her insistent recipe to cure me of bad eating habits. At least it wasn’t chicken soup double-boiled till the bones melted, I consoled myself.
I hadn’t waited long when a vehicle careened round the corner. I heard it first, that high-pitched screech of brakes wearing thin when the driver rammed his foot against it. From the corner of my eye, even before I turned to face it, I saw the blue truck. It rounded the bend where Emerson Street met Ravenswood, tottered before it righted itself and headed straight at me.
I took three steps back, fell and scrambled to get back up as the vehicle like a giant bullet struck the sidewalk I had only seconds ago stood on. The driver must have lost control, but when he hit the sidewalk it slowed the vehicle enough so he could bridle his speed and manage the truck as he continued to careen down the street.
My mother arrived a half minute later but she had seen it all. Like superwoman, she leaped out of her twenty-year-old Mercedes and rushed toward me, all breathless and blonde hair disheveled.
“Are you all right?” She reached out to help me up.
“Yes, yes,” I said, brushing the dirt off my yoga pants.
“Crazy driver. Brie, I just don’t know about this business of you staying alone here like this.” She walked back to her white Mercedes, leaned in the open window, and brought out a casserole dish piled high with something green. Make that several shades of green.
I followed her, admittedly winded.“Seriously, Mom. It’s just one of those things. Mad drivers could happen anywhere I live.”
She gave me no end of grief as to what a bad idea it was for me to live alone like this even though she knew I was going to get a roommate.
“Mom, stop worrying,” I said.
“You’re asking me to stop being your mother, I hope you realize this.”
“I’ll find someone dependable by the end of the week, I promise.” No way I was going back to live at home. Not that I came from a bad home environment. But I had my reasons.
I had advertised on Craig’s List, despite my mother’s protests that only scum would answer “those kinds of ads.”
Perhaps there was some truth to Mother’s biases, but I wouldn’t exactly call Sarah McIntyre scum. If she was, what would that make me?
Sarah’s father had inherited the family “coal” money. Their ancestors had emigrated from Scotland (where else, with a name like McIntyre, right?) in the early 1800s and bought an entire mountain (I kid you not) in West Virginia. It was a one-hit wonder in that the mountain hid a coal fortune under it, and hence the McIntyre Coal Rights Company was born. This was the McIntyre claim to wealth, and also a source of remorse and guilt for Sarah, for supposedly dozens of miners working for them had lost their lives due to the business, most to lung cancer or black lung, as it was commonly called. Hazards of the occupation.
About the Author
Emma Right is a happy wife and homeschool mother of five living in the Pacific West Coast. Besides running a busy home, and looking after too many pets, she also enjoys reading aloud to her children and often has her nose in a book. Right was a copywriter for a major advertising agency during her B.C. years. B.C.meaning “Before Children,” which may as well have been in the B.C.era, as she always says.
http://www.emmaright.com | twitter.com/emmbeliever | facebook.com/DeadDreamsEmmaRight