Stories can often succeed or fail on their characters, unless the story is completely plot based, but even then a story can become dull if you don’t really care what happens to the characters within it. If you can get people to worry and fret about a made up person then you have definitely succeeded.
This has always been my greatest difficulty when writing since I often think more about what is going to happen than why it’s happening and why a character is reacting in a particular way. But it’s something that I have been trying to focus on more of late and definitely thinking about more when I read a novel.
The last two books I read definitely had different ways of introducing characters to you, their past and how they thought, but also some similarities.
In Scarlett Thomas’ “Bright Young Things” they were introduced individually and provided with reasons to apply for the same job. Then later once they had all met they all took part in a game of ‘Truth or Dare’, which turned out to be quite a good device.
It gave them all a chance to answer questions on subjects which they wouldn’t ordinarily have brought up, enabling the reader to hear about events in their lives but also on their feelings on various subjects. It also gave you a chance to hear what they thought in their own head as they were answering these questions. Whether they were enjoying it, whether their or other people’s truthfulness shocked them, and how they began to feel about the other characters.
In “Micro” by Michael Crichton (& Richard Preston) the characters all knew each other from the beginning of the novel, therefore a question and answer setting would not be quite in keeping. Instead you find out a little more about them via their actions once placed in an unusual environment and how they respond to it. You also get to hear their inner thoughts about their lives up to this moment and what they think of the other characters and how they are reacting.
What I think I have learned just from these two books is that you need to get inside the heads of the characters and see what is happening from their point of view, not the writers point of view. It is also useful to give reasons why they are acting in a particular way and the emotions that are leading them to act. It is also important to think of what particular environments, words and situations remind them of in their past. I hope that in future I will be able to put some of these ideas into practice.