Any storyteller that has dipped their toes in the oceans of the writing community for even just a few weeks will tell you that the most vital aspect to writing books are the characters. Sure, without a doubt, setting and plot also tend to be key components in any tale that one wishes to tell, yet both of these are reactive elements when it comes to making a story. They don’t change or produce anything interesting until you poke them hard enough, and the only way to do that is through character.
But ironically enough, making a decent characterization can prove one of the most daqunting tasks for even seasoned writers. You’ve gotta think about characters you’d like to write, original traits for those characters, keeping those characters consistent, how you want to handle their personal plot arcs, and a whole slew of other crucial details in your story. Suffice to say, the odds are stacked against you.
And when you know that all of these features are necessary to create a good character, we have to think of ways that we can tackle them all at the same time inside of our novels. But then that adds a whole other layer of complexity!
Not only to do you have to deal with the list I mentioned earlier, now you have to deal with the changing contexts of the story, the curvy trail that leads to the end of the plot, and the character’s interaction with the setting! A novel is a project that requires a vast scope of thought, a scope of thought that will cause your character’s complexity to increase in proportion to it. In a few words, it is a difficult task to create a detailed character that doesn’t seem out of place within the long narrative of your story.
Now I know what you’re thinking (I don’t, but for practical purposes let’s pretend that I do). It’ll take years of experience for me to write a good character in my novel! There are too many things to think about! Where do I start!? Why did I ever want to become a writer!?!? Why are my thoughts so pessimistic!?!?!?
Alright, before you get a heart attack, let me start of by saying that it is true that it might take a long time for you to learn how to write characters into a lengthy work such as a novel. And if that’s a prospect that scares you, then it only makes me wonder why you decided to be a novelist in the first place. But it’s not all doom and gloom—just most of it, but that’s besides the point! While it is a long-term process, that doesn’t mean that you can’t apply a little technique that I’ve recently discovered to speed up your learning.
You see, I find that training in characterization is already hard as it is without having to write a massive novel. But if you’ve been around the block for more than a while, you’ll know that novels are only one style of written work. And this is where we come to my epithany with regards to this subject.
Write a Vignette.
Don’t know what a Vignette is? Well, in brief terms, a Vignette is a story that tends to be less than 1000 words, and focuses solely on one particular thing. What’s wonderful about these is that there’s no need for you to feel limited by things like time, setting, or even plot. The vignette is beautiful in that it’s two main focuses are on atmospheric and character-driven prose. And if you’re not seeing the pattern yet, then I recommend you lean in and pay close attention, because there’s a very specific reason behind why this works.
When a writer is put on the spot and forced to distill his content down to the bare essentials, it opens up opportunity to create more prose that matters. With a novel, it’s way too easy to get sidetracked from what’s so important when you have to keep the plot, the environment, and the descriptions in your mind while writing. And when we diverge our attention across so many different aspects rather than zooming in on the important ones, the quality of our prose can take severe blows.
Part of a writer’s passion is to challenge oneself and to try out new things to perfect our prose, and this is one of them. Condensing a story can get you to discover what your true priorities ought to be while you are writing. So if you find the idea of creating characters to be a scary one, then why not try making a vignette or two, so you can hone that skill without the stress of a full-length novel prodding at your back. If you’d like an example of what I mean, then go over to the Idiot in Tinfoil’s blog. He does some content that’s very similar to Vignettes, and he made this one story in particular that I find to be a great example of atmospheric storytelling.
As always, this has been the QuestingAuthor. Keep writing, my friends.