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Handling isolated characters?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Ireth, Apr 9, 2012.

  1. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

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    I'm having a bit of difficulty with one of my stories. The main female character, Diana, spends the bulk of her time completely by herself (not including her scenes with the villain), and that won't change much until the main male character comes along. My trouble is with making the narrative from Diana's point of view interesting, especially the beginning when there's not a lot of exciting stuff going on yet, and no dialogue either when she's by herself. Paragraph upon paragraph of description is likely to get boring after a while, and peppering it with her thoughts will only do so much to improve it. Not everything will be from her POV, fortunately: the male lead and the villain will shake things up a bit, but those scenes come later.
     
  2. Shockley

    Shockley Maester

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    Have you considered not making her alone? Maybe another character (who is minor) is with her but drifts out as the villain and main character makes their appearance. It might not be the story you want, but it seems like it would be easier to manage.
     
  3. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

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    Thanks first of all for the prompt reply. :)

    The whole point of keeping Diana by herself is to highlight the contrast between the metaphorical mask she wears in front of the villain and her real personality which she nurtures when she's alone. I can't help but think of the three gargoyles in Disney's version of the Hunchback of Notre Dame; they filled the purpose you described, giving Quasimodo someone to actually talk to when Frollo wasn't there (even if they really were all in his head), but their comic relief was sometimes rather jarring next to the much darker main plot.

    Aside from that, there's the issue of exactly what Diana is and the entire reason she's locked in the tower with only the villain for company. Diana is a werewolf, and she's kept in the tower for the safety of the people of Leeds. She has a very secure room built specifically for when she turns into a wolf every full moon. Also, people can hear her howling every full moon, which would no doubt give rise to rumors and horror stories among the people, urging them to stay away from the belltower if they value their lives. The villain is the only person who ever goes up there, to bring Diana food and necessities, and also to make sure she doesn't have the self-esteem to even think about escaping.
     
  4. Shockley

    Shockley Maester

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    That actually gives me an idea. Again, this is something that came from my mind so your liking of this will vary.

    If she is a werewolf, she already has two very distinct personalities inside her. The human and the animal. Perhaps she takes to talking to herself - at least internally - communicating between animal and human in an attempt to maintain her sanity.

    Or - if I'm remembering correctly that you had planned on having her weave tapestries - maybe have her talk to the tapestries. That reminds me somewhat of the Lady of Shallot. Cursed into a tower and forbidden from looking out on the actual world, she views it through a mirror and weaves the images of what she sees and (in a bit of subtextualization by yours truly) personifies them.
     
  5. Shockley

    Shockley Maester

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    Also, total side-thought: How does the villain keep her there? It seems like a big job for one person, unless they also live in the tower or nearby. Otherwise, that could leave an opening for guards, wait staff, etc.
     
  6. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

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    Diana's wolf side which manifests every full moon is an actual wolf, with no human reasoning or intelligence, so I can't see that going over too well. Wolves don't really understand human languages, spoken or otherwise.

    The tapestries, however, is a possibility. She could easily sign to the tapestries (she's deaf) and imagine them signing back at her -- it would certainly add a more tragic light to her character if she were a little bit crazy from constant isolation. I've been thinking about the Lady of Shalott parallel too; I kind of want the male lead to point that out in the story, if it's feasible for a peasant in 15th century England to be familiar with the Arthurian legends and Elaine of Astolat (the original Lady of Shalott).

    I'm still working it out, but the main idea in my head is that either a) Martin (the villain) has enough authority in the church to have her locked up there and make sure she's undisturbed, or b) Martin has enough money or knowledge to bribe or blackmail someone to get that authority for him. Dunno if there'd be guards or waitstaff in a church, but clergymen definitely. But again, see above -- they'd either be forced away by the villain or scared by Diana's monthly howling to go close to the tower. Diana herself has taken over the role of bellringer, like Quasimodo.
     
  7. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

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    If written well, what interests the character will be what interests the reader. What does Diana do to pass the time? For example, If she likes books maybe have her contemplate a story she just read and make it relevant to her character. Does she like watching the clouds, the stars, birds, etc. Does she build boats in bottles? Anything that interests Diana is fair game in the naraitve.

    If you need her to speak, she can talk to herself, to an imaginary friend, or even to inanimate objects like Tom Hanks in Castaway. Sometimes it's just the way we deal with isolation and loneliness.
     
  8. Shockley

    Shockley Maester

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    I'm roughly aware of the language barrier between humans and animals. ;P

    Though, that's not quite what I was suggesting. If you find yourself in a position where you regularly become a wolf, you will eventually consider that to be a fundamental part of yourself, either loved or hated. Since it's something different, it does, in a way, become a distinct personality. I wasn't meaning to suggest she actually communicate with a wolf, but that she has internal dialogue with the aspect of her mind that she has assigned the wolfish qualities.

    A dialogue between anima and id/ego/super-ego, if you would, in the purest sense. But again, it's your story.

    One thing I am curious about, as I didn't realize she was deaf, is exactly how she will communicate with the prince. While there were already sign languages by that time, they were primarily in more middle eastern areas (the Jewish equivalent of sign language is nearly two thousand years old) and very limited in Europe. Not trying to pole holes in your story, but I do wonder how you plan on pulling this off.
     
  9. Saigonnus

    Saigonnus Auror

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    Just a thought, but perhaps you could incorporate flashbacks to give character insight on how she thinks and what she's been through in her life. Many people handle solitude differently and people do different things to keep their grip on sanity and succeed to one degree or another. Perhaps she talks to herself about what she thinks about her situation.
     
  10. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

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    *makes mental note to talk to a friend who's studying psychology* ;D I'll keep thinking about that one.

    I'm not sure which of the two male characters you're referring to as the prince. There's no royalty of any sort involved in the story -- the villain is a deacon and the protagonists are laypeople. It's an adaptation of the Hunchback of Notre Dame, not a princess-in-the-tower scenario. :)

    As for communication, I know there wasn't any standardized sign language in a lot of places in the medieval era, but there has to have been some form of sign language used by the deaf ever since there have been deaf people in need of a way to talk to each other, especially in a world where literacy is not widespread among commoners. Diana's parents, being deaf themselves, would have taught her a system they have in their family or community, and Diana would have taught it to the villain (they were friends in childhood and were engaged before Diana became a werewolf).

    I'm personally not a big fan of extended flashback sequences, though brief snippets here and there might work. I was planning mostly on revealing her backstory when she meets the male protagonist and they start learning to communicate. I'm not sure she'd do a lot of thinking back as much as forward -- she wants to escape from the villain and the belltower, and has a plan in motion to do that.
     
  11. Butterfly

    Butterfly Auror

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    Last edited: Apr 9, 2012
  12. I doubt you need more than one or two chapters with Diana alone in the tower before the "main male character" comes along, in which case you shouldn't need to worry about how to keep it interesting. Heck, one chapter that starts with her in the tower, and some backstory about why she's there, and then it ends with the MMC showing up might be fine.

    Basically, if you have to have her in there for so many chapters that you have to figure out a way to keep it interesting, I would ask, why do you need to have her in there for so many chapters? I realize that you said:

    But unless you're writing postmodernism or gothic horror, then the above can be accomplished in one or two chapters on the outside. Maybe the first chapter details her imprisonment, ending on a down note (Woe! I'll be trapped here forever!) and then the second chapter starts with whatever breaks her out of her confinement (which is what I assume happens).
     
  13. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

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    Very good points, Benjamin. As it is now, the story starts with a brief description of where Diana is and what she does there before I have the villain show up, and it's only after that that she's left alone for an extended period. I'm not sure yet how long the story will be, so I don't know whether I want to divide it into chapters or just scenes. Your advice still stands though -- I can substitute "scene" for "chapter" and get pretty much the same result. XD
     
  14. Mindfire

    Mindfire Istar

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    Have you considered making her do things? Obviously if its just her by herself musing about the price of tea in China or whatever it's not going to be very riveting, but if she's constantly on a mission with a clear objective, then things can get less difficult. Even if your main plot hasn't picked up yet, you can give her smaller "missions". Things to do that help establish her character. "Mini-quests" or "side missions" as it were. What exactly these are will depend on what your character is like, of course. Keep your protagonist occupied with the side mission until the main plot and/or your secondary character(s) crop up. And don't worry if she has to leave her "side quest" unfinished. You can have her wrap it up at the conclusion as a nice book-end. Characters are interesting because of what they do. If your character is active, she won't be boring. You can also use internal dialogue to great effect. Batman makes a great example. He's pretty much always alone, but never boring.
     
  15. Rikilamaro

    Rikilamaro Inkling

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    Would it be weird if she talked to herself?

    Does she interact with anyone; ie minor characters, townsfolk?

    Is she religious, does she pray?

    Is there a flashback that could explain why she is so isolated that could be added here? Would that provide the action you need?

    Does the story absolutely need this alone time? Could the needed information be added in conversation after she meets the other MCs?
     
  16. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

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    1) Possibly not, but it might be hard, because she spends a lot of her spare time weaving tapestries (and making rope from spare yarn), which requires the constant use of her hands. Diana is deaf and uses her hands to communicate via improvised sign language, so any talking to herself that she did would mostly happen inside her own head, and that would be tricky and possibly boring to deal with.

    2) Nope, she's stuck in the tower with only the villain for company before the MMC comes along. I dunno if even a good-guy clergyman would go up there. Kinda doubt the villain would allow her to receive the Eucharist or anything.

    3) Quite likely. I imagine she'd use religion as a means of dealing with her lycanthropy. Where others might see it as a curse, she views it more as an illness, and probably asks God to heal her.

    4) I don't typically use flashbacks; I like to slip in little bits of exposition as I go.

    5) I do think it would be good to show Diana coping with her loneliness rather than just having her complain about it to the MMC. "I'm so lonely, all I do is eat and sleep, pray and weave! My only company is a man who hates me for something that isn't my fault!" Yeah, not really riveting conversation. :/
     
  17. Rikilamaro

    Rikilamaro Inkling

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    So, prayers may speed up the process or add flavor to the scenes where she can talk aloud.

    Also,who feeds and cleans her space? How does she get (firewood?) warmth? Does she have a chamber pot? IS she a girl of menstruating age, how does she deal with that? How long has she been in this tower? Does she miss her family/friends? Who taught her to communicate? Is there a guard besides the villain? Why does she not leave?

    I ask these questions as ways for you to think of things that could be communicated well to the reader and maybe add flavor.
     
  18. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

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    Okay, I'll answer these one at a time. XD

    1) The villain provides her with food, bedding, clothes etc., but I imagine Diana does much of the cleaning herself.

    2) See question 1; firewood/warmth would be among the necessities the villain provides. Or if not firewood, then at least blankets and warm clothing.

    3) Yup. Can't see her living without one in a world without indoor plumbing. XD

    4) Yes, she's in her early twenties. I imagine she might weave herself menstrual pads or something, if the yarn she uses for her tapestries is absorbent enough. Or maybe, again, the villain provides her with that. Or I could cheat and say her menstrual cycle automatically aligns with the full moon; then as she becomes more and more wolflike in the week before the full moon she doesn't need to worry about her period, because as far as I know wolves don't menstruate.

    5) Between five and six years; I haven't decided on an exact date yet.

    6) Oh, definitely. Whether they miss her is another story. The villain might have spread word that she was dead after she was bitten by a werewolf and he found out about it. It was easy to die from infections in the Middle Ages, and getting attacked and bitten by a wolf seems like a likely cause of that, even if it was a normal wolf.

    7) Her parents did. She hasn't been in the tower her whole life, only since she was a teenager. The villain is her ex-fiance, who locked her in the tower "for the people's safety" after breaking their engagement when Diana was bitten by a werewolf.

    8) Probably not.

    9) The villain takes it on himself to abuse and belittle Diana to rid her of her self esteem and crush any desire she has to escape (kinda like Mother Gothel does to Rapunzel in Tangled). This hasn't quite worked as well as he thinks; Diana is currently working on an escape plan in secret.

    And because I missed this when I replied last time:

    She does do a fair bit of stuff in her free time: cleaning, weaving tapestries, and working on making a rope out of spare yarn and other things would be the main three. I was thinking she might be brave enough to sneak down into the main part of the church, which may be where she meets the MMC. Or I could have her be more like Quasimodo and have her actually sneak out of the church entirely, and then be brought back when Martin finds her gone. That might be tricky to pull off, since physically Diana doesn't stand out in the crowd like Quasimodo does; she's not deformed or ugly, she just probably believes she is, no matter what her mirror shows her. People wouldn't pick on her as "the ugliest face in Leeds" or recognize her as the bellringer. If I wanted to have her make a spectacle of herself it'd need to be through her actions, not her appearance.
     
  19. Shockley

    Shockley Maester

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    Dogs (and wolves) both menstruate, but they do so internally. Depending on how old she is in wolf terms, she might have heat bleeding.

    God, why do I know that?
     
  20. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

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    That's... interesting. o_O; I'll have to read up on that.

    Hm... well, a "human year" is roughly seven "dog years", if I'm not mistaken, so at 21 or so human years of age, in wolf terms she'd be just barely 3 years old. She was bitten in her mid-teens, no earlier than 15. This is subject to change as I keep working on this; I'm still trying to work out the exact age at which she's likely to have been engaged, and counting from there the date of her bite and imprisonment prior to the start of the story. But that's an issue for another thread.
     
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