Saturday, June 22, 2019

Character Development: Floating Brains

I was struggling last week with some early feedback I got from readers in my creative writing class because it echoed what I have heard over and over again in short story rejections from SF/F magazine editors: There’s something missing in the emotional development of my characters.

The personal feedback reveals that, while my characters are likable and speak like real people, there’s a disconnect the reader has, as if an emotional wall has been constructed around the characters making them distant or removed. I’m sure this stems from my own emotional distance to the people and the world around me. I keep that side of myself in the interior most of the time. I’m frustrated because I keep trying to get at the emotional core of each short story, but something is still failing to come across.

It’s like my characters are floating minds: a collection of thoughts in a head unattached to a body with physical movement. I care about what’s going on in their brains and forget to describe the entire human being. Even though I think that I’m giving my characters full emotional development, I neglect the physical body language and nonverbal reactions they should display on the page. Another challenge is that I can’t really put tone of voice into the dialogue without explicitly describing it. An actor can read a line of dialogue and imbue different meanings to the words just with a tone or a look, but it’s very difficult to accomplish that in a written story.

I’m still struggling to figure out how to improve, and make my characters more than just floating brains.

I'm currently reading Storyteller: Writing Lessons & More from 27 Years of the Clarion Writers' Workshop by Kate Wilhelm, and I highlighted a couple tips about character development:

"Remember that words are often used to conceal rather than reveal, and body language may well convey a truer message many times." (page 89)

"...know your character, the hidden self as well as the public self..." (page 92)