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DwayneA
03-20-2009, 05:58 AM
I just finished reading "The Contender", a story about a black teenager and high school dropout whose life is going nowhere, and how he rediscovers his passion through life by becoming a boxer. Reading the book and the analysis on Sparknotes makes me realize now that I think I'm starting to understand how characters work and that they are real people.

Even though Alfred Brooks, the protagonist was the only one who actually evolved, grew, and changed during the story, by the end, I felt I knew him as a real person. He had problems with his life at the start, and by the end, he's ready to pursue a better life for himself and helping his best friend on the road to recovery.

There were other characters in the story such as Mr. Donatelli that I understood why they were the why they were. Such as the scene where Mr. Donatelli stops a fight and takes a loss for one of his contenders because he's badly hurt. But even these characters didn't evolve, grow, or change like Alfred did. And Major was a real trouble-maker, no redeeming qualities whatsoever.

In other words, I'm beginning to understand how to understand fictional characters and see them as real people.

wordmonkey
03-20-2009, 06:54 AM
In other words, I'm beginning to understand how to understand fictional characters and see them as real people.

For my money, THAT is the key.

They ARE real. What did they do before this story started? What did they want before this story started?

DwayneA
03-20-2009, 07:22 AM
Before the story, Alfred had lost his parents, quit school, and taken a job at a grocery store. He wanted to make something of himself and fit in. And in the end, he learned that it's the effort, not the win, that makes the man. He makes plans to go to night school and help out at a recreational center for kids.

dreamsofnever
03-20-2009, 11:13 AM
Congrats on beginning to understand, Dwayne!

Just like with anything else in writing, the more you read and analyze, the more you learn. I'm glad this is starting to click for you!

Like you said, your characters need to become real people and the best way is to spend time shaping them, figuring out their pasts, their inane little details (like favorite color, food, etc) and their flaws.

Good characters are flawed, as you said. And a good character-based story shows growth. It shows a character who has learned a lesson by the end of the story.

Keep reading, and you will get there :)

C.J. Rockwell
03-20-2009, 06:49 PM
I'm happy for you DwayneA

I'm still trying to get a handle on this myself. (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=126160)

What was once an issue I could brush off, has morphed into an obstacle that's seriously getting in the way of my enjoyment of writing.

DwayneA
03-20-2009, 07:22 PM
In stories, I've noticed several characters that never grew or changed, they just remained the way they were. They hardly had any character. Some of them had no redeeming qualities.

For example, in The Contender, Alfred's Aunt Pearl was simply the voice of reason. She never truly evolved throughout the story like Alfred did. We did learn that she had a dream, but never fulfilled it.

Alfred's friend James slipped deeper into drugs and was even on probation for trying to break into the store at the beginning. At the end when he tries to break in again and cuts himself badly, Alfred is able to convince him to change.

Alfred's four opponents during the story were never truly developed as characters. I never knew anything about them. They basically had no personalities. They were like robots who served only one purpose.

Major was according to another site a villain in the story. He's a bully and steals. In one scene, he even stole a car. He shows no redeeming qualities.

In fact, the only character who truly evolved and grew was the protagonist Alfred. He had flaws that were clearly shown. He was tempted by outside forces: parties, drugs, girls, and hanging out with the wrong crowd. As for the other characters, I could hardly determine their flaws through their actions and dialogue.

There is something that I still don't understand however. Why do only a few characters (or one) actually evolve, grow, and change? What role are the other characters besides the ones who do change play in the story?

Kitty Pryde
03-20-2009, 08:17 PM
Right on! I struggle with characterization as well. One book I found really helpful is 'Characters, Emotion, and Viewpoint (http://www.amazon.com/Characters-Emotion-Viewpoint-Techniques-Viewpoints/dp/1582973164)' by Nancy Kress, a science fiction author. As far as change, she divides main characters into 4 groups:

-chars who change their personality but not their motivation
-chars who change their motivation but not their personality
-chars who change both their motivation AND their personality
-chars who don't change (According to this book, this is okay sometimes, for instance when a character refuses to change and is thus destroyed by society (like Gatsby), or when a character is a detective with an interesting personality in a mystery series and it's okay for them to keep being the same person.


But consider that while the main character is going through changes in his life, the other characters may be too, but either the MC doesn't know it, or the author doesn't have space to fit in the emotional/psychological journey of all the minor characters.

OK, enough rambling from me. But seriously, check that book out!

RiseBeauty
03-20-2009, 11:47 PM
In stories, I've noticed several characters that never grew or changed, they just remained the way they were. They hardly had any character. Some of them had no redeeming qualities.

For example, in The Contender, Alfred's Aunt Pearl was simply the voice of reason. She never truly evolved throughout the story like Alfred did. We did learn that she had a dream, but never fulfilled it.

Alfred's friend James slipped deeper into drugs and was even on probation for trying to break into the store at the beginning. At the end when he tries to break in again and cuts himself badly, Alfred is able to convince him to change.

Alfred's four opponents during the story were never truly developed as characters. I never knew anything about them. They basically had no personalities. They were like robots who served only one purpose.

Major was according to another site a villain in the story. He's a bully and steals. In one scene, he even stole a car. He shows no redeeming qualities.

In fact, the only character who truly evolved and grew was the protagonist Alfred. He had flaws that were clearly shown. He was tempted by outside forces: parties, drugs, girls, and hanging out with the wrong crowd. As for the other characters, I could hardly determine their flaws through their actions and dialogue.

There is something that I still don't understand however. Why do only a few characters (or one) actually evolve, grow, and change? What role are the other characters besides the ones who do change play in the story?

Hi Dwayne,
Thumbs up on your lightbulb moment! Good for you! Your thoughts on this book make me want to read it to see what you mean. It sounds interesting.

As for what you said above about not all characters changing, there's nothing wrong with that. From what it sounds like in your comments the problem was characterization and not change. If a secondary character is well drawn and believable they don't have to change. In real life people change and no one around them does. But in a story if the MC changes and those around him remain the same then the conflict increases because he has more to battle than he did when he was like them. It can work well as long as it's not a well developed character that transforms against a backdrop of stone figurines :(

Nadja

Dale Emery
03-20-2009, 11:57 PM
What role are the other characters besides the ones who do change play in the story?

One thing they do is demonstrate, through their words and actions, some of the values and beliefs and attitudes that relate to the MC's dilemma. Some characters demonstrate what happens if you don't change. Some demonstrate the very lesson that the MC is to learn. Some demonstrate an alternate way of resolving the MC's central dilemma.

Other characters exist to contrast with the MC, or to provoke the MC closer and closer to the crisis, to the MC having no choice but to face the need for change.

Dale

DwayneA
03-21-2009, 12:28 AM
ah, I get it now!

Matera the Mad
03-21-2009, 05:19 AM
:hooray: :hooray: :hooray: :hooray: :hooray: :hooray:

DwayneA
03-21-2009, 05:24 AM
another good example of character development I understood was in "The Pearl". Again, only the protagonist evolved, grew, and changed. Kino wanted a better life for his family and give his son a chance to go to school. As the book progressed, his greed for wealth and the giant pearl changes him into a whole new person who beats his wife and kills a man. After a while on the way to the capital and on the run from people hoping to steal his pearl, he kills the trackers, but his son is killed. This loss finally convinces him to throw away the pearl, his dreams gone and his life and family in ruin. But hey, he did get his rifle!