The Importance of Story 2
Written by John Campbell
Before I dive into these articles, I suppose I should mention that these really aren't going to:
1. Make you a good writer. I can't teach you how to use the basic mechanics of language. If English isn't your first language, have someone who's fluent and intelligent clean up all your text. And just because you were born and raised in America or England doesn't mean you understand English either. At least, that's what I think. It doesn't matter how excellent your story is-any line approaching, "Somebody set up us the bomb," is going to ruin it.
2. Make you an interesting person. Maybe everybody's interesting down deep. I don't really know. I like things made by interesting people. So far as I can tell, being interesting is a mysterious magic of some sort.
3. Be an encompassing end all of writing tutorials. That's probably not possible. There are a whole lot of books and guides about writing stories out there, so check some out. Even better, go get a really good book and read it. Especially a book hitting the same material/style/feeling that you're going for.
These articles are going to be things that I have learned in my attempts at writing for the past few years. Now, on to character. The most important thing I have learned about developing character is:
Your characters must exist outside your work.
A lot of my adolescent writings were filled with a resounding kind of hollowness. I didn't really understand why -I knew I couldn't write that well, but I thought I had decent ideas. I could come up with interesting things happening, and settings I thought were cool, but what I wrote sounded like a big empty aching void when I read my own work.
I had people running around doing things, and they did the things okay. Stories began and ended, and I flailed about in the dark trying to discover what I was doing wrong. My greatest problem then (besides a rather tenuous grip on the English language) was a total and complete lack of characters.
Like I said, I had people, but my awareness of them was only what they did when they showed up in each story. A reader would be rather unclear as to the motivations behind my characters -they would have to piece them together from the action shown -which, I think, is okay sometimes. What made this hollow and generally shabby writing was that I had nothing in my mind keeping these characters' actions, words, and thoughts unified. It's okay for people to act or speak differently than the way they think about things, but even if the character is superficially unified, both the reader and the writer have full cause to ask, "why?" of every character's qualities. If a character does not exist to some degree outside of the work presented, even the writer can give no answer.
It's not that my characters were shallow (though they were). My characters didn't even exist.
What made this a problem was that the stories and computer games I was working on at the time were empty. I didn't want to reread or replay them because they were pretty much a framework only. I had no particular affection for them, so how could I expect any from a reader or player? This also meant that if I didn't finish a project in the first couple attempts, it was nearly impossible for me to continue.