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Copyright Melanie Spiller 2011. Do not copy without permission.
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Building Character, Part 3

Portia was dumfounded. She had walked onto the airplane fully prepared to have a dull and uneventful flight, struggled with the overhead binís contents and passing passengers, and then looked at her seatmate. There he was, smiling up at her as if nothing had happened. (44 words)

 

In todayís exciting episode of Building Character (Part 3), youíll learn how to make assumptions about characters from their actions and the reactions of other characters. Look at that opening paragraph. What do you know from it? Go ahead and think about it. Iíll just make a list of what I think you should be able to discern while youíre busy doing your research.

 

There are lots of things that you donít know about the characters from that first paragraph. Go ahead and make yourself a list of those things, too. Iíll work on mine while you do that.

 

I donít know about you, but I found that the longer one list became, the more I could add to the other. You might have found tidbits that I missed, too. You may have also noticed that a fair amount of what we know has more to do with the plot (and what we donít know about it) than character.

It isnít necessary to separate character development from plot, really. Your characters got into the plot because of who they are, right? Letís see whether determining the plot has an effect on what we know about the characters. Think about that airplane opening in these scenarios and see what happens.

 

Itís a murder mystery.

Itís an adventure story.

Itís a shameless romance.

Itís a political intrigue set in an exotic country.

Itís a historical novel.

Itís the biography of an opera star.

Itís a childrenís story.

Itís a spy novel.

Itís an allegory.

Itís science fiction.

 

Did anything change about the characters? If itís a murder mystery, is either one the murderer or the famous detective? If itís a shameless romance, didnít the characters suddenly become gorgeous and have a current of electricity flowing between them? If itís a biography of an opera star, is this the man who made her famous or the man who starred opposite her in a terrible flop? If itís an allegory, for what? If itís science fiction, does setting the story in the present have any effect on what can happen?

 

I hope you had fun with this little exercise. Next time, Iíll talk about plot versus character.