Coming soon, an exercise in futility

May 20, 2008

Okay, I’m sorry. I’m back after an unplanned recuperation from a fit of low spirits. Or, rather, recuperating from an unplanned fit of … er … yeah. Enough about me. Well, almost.

Because what shook me out of my stupor was a news item that struck me rather strangely. I was discussing it yesterday with a friend who encouraged me to post the story here. And I’m working on it. Perhaps it’s my sense of (melo-) drama, but it seems a delicate endeavor.

First, though, a more general proposition. When we write character, just how much can we distill or condense from life?

Part of what I’ve been dwelling on in the last couple weeks is when and whether to be satisfied with character development. How much insight is necessary as a bare minimum for the reader? How much beyond that will help tell the story? And then at what point does character analysis and exposition become an egocentric digression to satisfy the author?

Does that make as little sense as it seems? When I was in high school—a Jesuit school—we had a novice come through, and the first time he gave the sermon, he opened with a joke, that in seminary they teach that the first six minutes of the sermon are for God, the second for the self, and the third … well, you can fill in the blank.

Anyway, it’s a start. We’ll put our heads together—maybe … if you’re willing, as such—once I drain off enough of the politics to not wreck the idea at the outset.

Futility is such a dangerous game.




  1. How much is too much character development? It’s kind of like that definition of pornography – “I know it when I see it.” I’ve had different people read the same passage in my novel and tell me 1) my characters aren’t developed enough and 2) my characters are too developed. I guess I need to stop sharing my writing with schizophrenics…
    My basic rule, when I’m reading, is that if a character’s words, thoughts and actions are logical to the way that character would talk, think and act, then the development is just right.

  2. I am eager for the actual article and hope you are over your fit of low spirit, a common enough malady for writers.
    At shootingshrink.com I posed the following tangential but related query in Shrinking Fiction, How Psychology Can Help You Write Good Fiction:

    Question for Commenters:
    In Episode I of Season I of the Tudors (Showtime), King Henry VIII asks his ambassador to
    France if the French king has strong calves. Why?

    The questions of what makes good characters, what makes marketable characters and what makes unforgettable characters are our bailwick as writers,eh?

    Is this throwing question at question? Yes.

  3. It’s funny, Gayle, that you should mention pornography ….

  4. Hmm, B.D. – Just how “developed” is your character? 😉

  5. Hmm, B.D. – Just how “developed” is your character?

    Remember that bit at the opening of Star Wars when the blockade runner came whizzing by and then the star destroyer ….

    Er, never mind. Actually, truth told, the exercise in futility is on its fourth—much simplified—incarnation. I posted the “Coming Soon” as a reckless way to force myself to follow through on this one, but still, it is proving a difficult thing.

    On the one hand, it starts with a dirty joke of sorts. To the other, the joke is in the eye (mind, loins, whatever) of the beholder, so I’m left justifying the point, which ends up sounding extremely political and, well, we decided to try to keep the nakedly (heh!) political out of it.

    I have a feeling I’m going to go with the simplified version and hope to not get run out of town.

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