Learning to Write XVI
There is no novel without character. You can have all of the other ingredients, plot, thematic content, pace, action, style, psychology, tension and poetry, but if your characters aren’t credible and if they don’t live with each other then you don’t have a novel.
Characters are what hold the different parts of your narrative together and they are the main ingredient for holding the attention of your reader. The reader may or may not be interested in plot, but either way the emotional link between the reader and the theme of your novel will be the characters. Consequently, it is character which is the main motivator of tension. And tension is what ensures that your reader keeps coming back for more.
When thinking about writing skills, the creation and presentation of character is of the utmost importance. Effective characters ensure some form of reader identification and tension. Ineffective characters lead to a lack of reader identification and no tension. And this amounts to a lot of words, perhaps to some kind of ‘prose poem’ but it doesn’t amount to a novel.
This being the case I intend to concentrate on characterization for the next few entries in this series. For now I shall content myself with remembering one piece of advice I was given as an apprentice writer many many years ago. Whenever you are faced with a choice between characterization and one of the other ingredients of a novel, always choose characterization. Characterization or pace. Choose characterization. Characterization or plot. Choose characterization. Characterization or action. Choose characterization.
Always choose characterization. Why? Because you can return to the text later and increase or decrease the pace, you can return later and tinker with plot or add pages of action. Most elements of the novel will allow you to come back and alter them, sometimes profoundly. But it is almost impossible to return and revive a character who was still-born.