1. Welcome to the Fantasy Writing Forums. Register Now to join us.

Characterization by proxy?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Digital_Fey, Jul 9, 2011.

  1. Digital_Fey

    Digital_Fey Troubadour

    137
    5
    18
    I'm currently wrestling with a story involving a character who is abducted and badly injured by a member of an underground clan of elves whose numbers are dropping rapidly. The character, a teenage girl, remains comatose throughout the story (which will probably be novella length), and events will focus on how her friends deal with losing her and how her presence influences the internal politics of the group that abducted her. (It's urban fantasy, btw, in a downtown setting).

    The problem is that I'm not sure how to build the readers' sympathy and liking for this character, since she never gets the chance to speak or act. How do you avoid making the reader feel that all the angst surrounding this figure is much ado about nothing?
     
  2. sashamerideth

    sashamerideth Maester

    741
    33
    18
    I think you need to include the pains of the people that are actually affected by her disappearance, friends, family, their desire to have her back, that sort of thing.
     
  3. CicadaGrrl

    CicadaGrrl Troubadour

    112
    7
    18
    Hate to be a bitch for asking, but why did you create a comatose main character? What is it that is absolutely compelling to your story that this girl doesn't participate (herself, anyway)? Once you have satisfactorily answered for yourself (and you may have already) and not me (who you shouldn't give a shit about), you are well on your way to figuring out what about this character must be stressed and explored from both sides of the fence.

    Those two elements said, she's not your main character. Not unless you have a lot of flashbacks or dream sequences (which I heartily deem to be stupid unless in a very narrow, specific and unavoidable use). Her loved ones top side--and I would choose one or two in particular--and the elves who, assumably, want a comatose girl to somehow solve their one problems--again, pick one or two--THEY are your main characters. Topside, her best friend and brother, or whoever, are going to be going out of their minds at her disappearance. They will be trying to come up with how this is or is not in her character. They will be putting up signs. AND they will most likely talk about her constantly. Not just in general terms of "she's so cool." But as in, "remember that time your parents went away, and you had a bunch of friends over and got trashed, but she only said we wouldn't tell if we could hang out, too? And then that old lech patrick had over kept hitting on her, but she wouldn't tell you because she didn't want you to think she couldn't handle herself, so instead she nailed him in the balls with those pointed boots and he yakked all over everything and had to be taken to the hospital?" "Yeah, I remember being so furious she hadn't come to me, but so proud she could handle herself." Stuff like that.

    On the elves side, they've got these specific problems, and they seem to have stolen her for a reason, so there is a good chance they will be talking about what she is there for, and how they identified that she would have these qualities, perhaps by spying on her, bringing back stories about her. You will fill her character out through a crosshatch of povs this way. But most likely it is still one elf or her best friend or brother whoever who are the main characters. I don't care if she rises up to become the next incarnation of whoever in the end of the novella, in this case the main character would be the tonto to this lone ranger.
     
  4. Digital_Fey

    Digital_Fey Troubadour

    137
    5
    18
    Thanks for the input, Cicada! (That story made me laugh, because it pretty much sums up the character's attitude - creepy :p) I agree with the things you mentioned and had been thinking along those lines myself, but it always helps to have it summed up by someone who's more objective. The reason I decided to have her comatose is because I wanted to avoid writing the usual 'alienated teenage girl gets involved in magical shenanigans and turns into a hero' scenario. (I still haven't decided whether she wakes up or dies at the end of the book, but will most likely leave it fairly open ended - no rising to become the incarnation of anything, that's for sure >.>) Instead I want to focus more on emotions and how different people cope with grief.
     
  5. Totally weird thought here, but I saw an episode of House that included a patient (played by Mos Def) who appeared to be in a coma-like state...he couldn't move, speak, or anything. But, he could hear, think, and things of this nature. It might be a strange angle worth exploring. Maybe the girl was put into a state like this by some sort of drug or something that the elves created.
     
  6. Deborah Dalton

    Deborah Dalton Scribe

    27
    0
    1
    Question is, why did the elves kidnap her? Also, did they intend for her to wind up comatose? I guess it comes down to a question of motivation - both for the elves kidnapping, and then the people topside. Obviously, the topside motivation goes deeper than "we have to find her" and probably needs to answer questions such as, "why is she so important to us?"

    Why is she so important to everyone?? I think if you figure that out, it'll really help the story. Also, I have to agree with Cicada, she's probably not going to be your main character - she's the catalyst for the story instead.
     
  7. Digital_Fey

    Digital_Fey Troubadour

    137
    5
    18
    Interesting idea, Map - I thought of having dream sequences or somesuch, but I'm not sure if can write that sort of thing without getting hopelessly pretentious :p Still, it might be worth investigating futher...

    I have some ideas on why she's important, but I'm hesitating over the detail since, again, I want to avoid making her too much of a 'chick with superpowers' kind of figure. (The original idea was that she's one of the few humans who've been gifted with fey magic, and that she is chased out of the neighborhood for being a witch, although her parents and best friend try to save her. An elf finds her on the street and takes her home for his own pleasure before realizing what she is. Still not sure whether to scrap this or just edit it to something less dramatic.) Thanks for the pointers, Deborah; these are questions I thought I'd answered for myself but now I realize that I need to do a lot more work on the details. *scurries off*
     
  8. Deborah Dalton

    Deborah Dalton Scribe

    27
    0
    1
    Cool, DF. I kinda figured you had more planned than you were letting on in your original post. The story does sound very fascinating if you can pull this tricky one off. I'm looking forward to hearing more about it or someday reading it.
     
  9. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

    3,598
    1,518
    163
    Just a suggestion... I know its immensely difficult to summarize a plot when asking a question like this, but I would suggest you very carefully look over the details and ask yourself a lot of "why" questions. It would be very easy for this plot to become very contrived or even juvenile-sounding if the solid "whys" aren't answered first with plausible, perhaps even thought-provoking answers.
    I wrote an abduction and escape into a novel, and I made the pursuers stay one step behind the escapees. In the novel I never revealed every detail of how exactly that was possible, but I have it hand written in my outline..... My purpose in choosing that way to go was that I love to give a reader credit, telling them I have confidence in their ability to figure out the "why", but also, if anyone ever asked me why something happened, I wouldn't want to look like I just made something happen to create suspense.

    You said it was urban fantasy, so I assume you mean current time period. How was she chased out of her neighborhood? I think that might be a big why to me if I were a reader. I'd have a hard time believing that she's the weirdest thing in her neighborhood.... I've worked downtown at night on the weekends, and unless she single-handedly destroyed the block... I'd say most people would keep to themselves. They might think her a nutcase, though, and she may be alienated at school. Also, why the coma? Why not a magical cage, or in the care of a powerful guard that she cannot defeat? If your goal is to focus on feelings, you might simultaneously write about her family's grief and her own self-discovery. She need not turn into a hero... my best characters are average people who experience real feelings and real pain and make mistakes interacting with each other. The coma might be a bit weird if she's just missing from the story, from the point of her abduction onward.

    By the way, I love the concept. I think is it interesting, thought-provoking, and certainly not limited as far as things to explore as a writer. I just think the how and why have to be well thought out.
     
  10. Digital_Fey

    Digital_Fey Troubadour

    137
    5
    18
    Thanks, Anihow - I agree that a solid foundation is the only way to write a good story.

    Having a sort of modernized witch hunt take place does seem a bit dramatic now I think about it - I had originally thought of her living in a fairly poor neighborhood where people would have a very simple-minded view of anyone being different from themselves, and would tend more towards violence; I wanted to show how things can spiral out of control through human ignorance.

    I see your point re the coma, but I'd like to have a mostly 'human' reason for her inability to act throughout the story - something that could happen in the real world, as a result of drug overdose for instance, or perhaps in this case from elvish drugs and physical injuries. A cage or prison would be too pre-meditated on the elves' side.

    Y'all have given me plenty of food for thought - many thanks:)
     
    Last edited: Jul 12, 2011
  11. Ophiucha

    Ophiucha Auror

    1,228
    280
    63
    If you stick with it, I do have a few suggestions.

    Though the circumstances were rather different, I had a character who I had to develop in a similar way. I don't think I've got it down flat, but I've drafted a bit with this take on the character, and it's working so far. For context, in my story, the character-in-question (Briar) is the leader of a court, one which plays a rather large role in the conclusion but is otherwise irrelevant. Her husband is in the main 'party', and the main character himself knows her (he's the husband's best friend, so they've had dinner together and whatnot). I develop her almost entirely through aside comments. Algernon (the husband) would say things like, "Briar'd kill me," or "just like how Bry makes 'em." The readers will also get snippets of news from the court, "Briar lead the court to pass the law on increasing the number of wells in the capital city", things that can fit in anywhere I can toss them (my novel is epistolary, so I often take up pages for a newspaper article or two, and can fit in unfinished snippets of other articles or ads). Most of these things are short asides, often just replacements for generic dialogue like "This is delicious!" or "I really shouldn't..." that involve a character very dear to one of the more accessible characters in the story.

    Have a character tell another the situation, and have the second one say something like "Jane wouldn't do something like that", or perhaps "Godammit, I told Jane to stay away from there", or whatever would fit. If any of them were particularly close with her, they may be more upset, get reminiscing. They could be at a diner and one may order a burger she doesn't care for, but perhaps "Jane" (I've arbitrarily named your character this for the sake of this paragraph) really did. If things seem hopeless, you may even be able to fit in a short, but not out-of-place, 'remember that time when'-scene. I'd avoid that one, if possible, but I've seen it done well in a few books, though again, keep it brief. Really, the best thing would just be to show why these characters care about her. If we have enough sympathy for the ones we do see, we'll care about what they care about, even if that 'what' is a 'who'.
     
Loading...

Share This Page