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Jun 16, 2009

Choosing a Character who Sees Deeply

I really want to reveal the nature of my secret novel, before I make it so mysterious that it becomes a let down when I finally do reveal it.

That said, I'm not ready to talk details yet. As Scott Bailey mentioned in the comments on his blog post about outlining, it's not so much because I'm trying to keep it secret as that I don't feel comfortable jinxing it before I have a draft. So, for now, it's still the secret novel.

That said, I'll still discuss a problem in general terms, if I may. That's choosing a character who can see deeply.

I have several characters already chosen for me, as it were, by the nature of the novel. I know who my four main pov characters must be, at least in broad strokes. I still have to make sure, however, that the personality of these characters is not only sympathetic enough to justify being a protagonist, but profound enough to have insights into their own situations.

This is tricky.

I don't want the characters to be a mere mouthpiece for me the author. On the other hand, there are certain philosophical observations I would like my characters to be in a position to explore. I have to make certain I don't make them all dingbats. At the same time, their pov is going to be necessarily limited by where they are and what they are allowed to see, so I mustn't give in to the temptation to make them all knowing, either.

Unless I bypass my characters and write in omniscient.

I didn't realize how tempting that would be.

Or... here is a strange idea. I could introduce an omniscient narrator who is actually revealed to be a character at the end of the book. This voice over could philosophize along the way.

Hm. Probably I should just avoid the temptation to philosophize altogether.

Is it important to you to have a character who sees deeply, who is intelligent and observant, or do you prefer to work with "naive" characters, who, while themselves innocent of what is really going on around them, allow the reader to see past them, into the real situatoin?


Ban said...

i'm gonna say, for me, it's 50/50 1. because i don't empathize well with dumb characters. if i can see something a mile away and they are standing around going 'duh' i get annoyed but, on the other hand 2. i do like to figure some things out before the character does. maybe pick up on some foreshadowing the character is not yet aware of but realizes sooner enough on their own. anyhoo, that's just my take.

Charlie said...

For most of the books that I've enjoyed, I like discovering things along with my characters.

beth said...

Hmmm...I think it depends. For example, in Narnia, Lucy's not the brightest of the bunch, but she's very perceptive. They need to be good at something--be it problem solving the plot, or identifying character traits, or something. They can't be 100% naive, nor can they be entirely brilliant.

scott g.f. bailey said...

I tend to go with a mixture of the two. I like it when characters are bright people and notice the world around them. However, I'm a big fan of dramatic irony, when they're also blind to what's right in front of their faces and don't see when they're wrong or being hypocrites or whatever. ("or whatever," he said, showing how brilliant a write he really is!) My protagonist is a bit of both. But I also have two very naive characters that I dearly love.

I also like to have the situations bring the philosophical issues to the surface, rather than the characters but you probably are already doing that. But it's also true that I have one character lecture another outright on the idea of the Great Chain of Being, and I have two characters sitting on a wall discussing meritocracies. So my most unhelpful answer is: it depends. In the discussions I mention, characters are trying to convince others to think their way, to support their ends, so I think it's justified.

Liana Brooks said...

Sounds a bit deep for my taste. Generally, I let my characters shoot things and if the reader sees more in the situation that's great.

I probably put it there, but the characters are people. And like most people, they aren't given to sitting for days thinking about anything. They live their life as they need to and the rest is... hindsight.

At the end of the book you should be able to look back and see some greater meaning. But I prefer not to stop the action to spell it out for anyone during the book.

Tara Maya said...

I agree, I can't stand dumb characters. But I suppose what many of you are saying is that there is a difference between dumb and clueless. Even an intelligent character can be clueless for a variety of reasons. Perhaps the reader has information the character doesn't, perhaps the character has a blindspot or flaw (hubris), perhaps the character is too emotionally involved to see something obvious.

Granted, philosophical and action books require different kinds of heroes. I just realized part of my problem may be that I've stuffed my action fantasy with philosophers but the characters in my philosophical literary book (the secret novel) has less introspective characters. Since this isn't really the kind of story where people shoot at each other (ok, not *much*) I'm feeling the pinch.

AmyB said...

I had an agent reject a full manuscript because she felt the protagonist was too naive. I'd had similar comments from beta readers, and am now determined never to write a naive protagonist again--too many readers hate them! You might be able to get away with it if the character has other likeable qualities--especially if he or she is very good at something. For example, I'm sure I'd enjoy reading about a socially naive character, if she were also intellectually brilliant. But not if she's clueless across the board.

laughingwolf said...

of course, 'dumb' characters could just be faking it... the old bait-n-switch routine

all four could not remotely have the same pov... else you have three useless ones

Lady Glamis said...

Ah, yes, philosophical characters... I must say I've only created one. Some of my characters are intelligent, of course, but don't sit around thinking about how things ought to be or should be or are. Some are stupid. Some glimpse into the philosophical realm, but that's never the focus.

This is a great post. It makes me think about how my stories present ideas. Through the characters? Or the narrator? Or the plot? My one philosophical characters lives in an apartment filled with classical literature. He couldn't help but "think deep" and lend a hand to the larger themes of the book. :D