You are here:

Writing Books/Character development


Followup To
Question -
How deep should I go with the extra characters and the love interest?
Answer -
Hello Shawn!

More info needed.  Are you writing a book, a play, a screenplay, a short story - a series, a one-shot deal, how many pages, how many chapters, what is the plot, what is the story - fiction, non-fiction?

I am writing a fictional-series book about a teen coming of age story.
I am not sure how many chapters I shuld make it or how many pages either. I was hoping to get what ever recomendation on character dept.
Thank you Shawn  

Hello, Shawn!

Thanks for writing back with more information.  Now, let's get to work.

All of the information that follows is based on a typical, professional manuscript page written in submission format.  Quickly, this format requires, courier or courier new #12 type, double-spaced, single-sided, with one-inch or greater margins square, and each first page of each new chapter starts one-third to one-half way down the page.  All pages require a slugline (header) and page number across the top of the page.

To maximize your chances of making a sale to a publisher or agency, your raw manuscript should not exceed three-hundred pages, unless you are a well known author with a track record of earning potential.

Manuscript chapters should run from fifteen to twenty-five pages.  Over twenty-five pages and you are pushing the envelope.

Young adults (or the "teen" market) certainly have a wider, deeper attention span than children, but not as deep or wide as an adult audience.  Bearing this in mind, let's do the math.

A three-hundred page book with medium chapters of twenty pages each will give you about fifteen chapters.  As a rule, take it easy on your reader and only introduce two new characters per chapter.  Does this mean you may have thirty characters in your book?  No!  New characters are not introduced in every chapter.

This brings us to the next question - which chapters do I use to introduce my characters in, because the amount of chapters I use for this purpose will determine how many characters will be in my manuscript.

Your book is divided into a three-act structure: act one / the setup; act two / the conflict; act three / the resolution.

Fifteen chapters will play out roughly like this: act one / three chapters; act two / nine chapters; act three / three chapters.

The game plan: Use act one to introduce your two or three most important characters (protagonists and antagonists) and to create the promise of a major conflict hiding just around the corner in early act two.  Remember, you have three chapters in act one, so, you may introduce a few other characters, however, YOU NEVER WANT TO INTRODUCE A CHARACTER, AND SPEND TIME AND SPACE ON THAT INTRODUCTION, IF IT IS A THROW-AWAY CHARACTER.

Use act two to develop your story (what happens) and your plot (how it happens) and start getting deep with your characters introduced in act one.  You may introduce your supporting characters and give them space and time determined by their importance to the work.  Not important, don't waste more than a paragraph or three.  Very important, roll up your sleeves and do some writing.

Use act three to resolve the conflict and demonstrate your protagonist(s) character arc.  No new characters in act three.

The following is part of a lecture I gave on writing character.  It's long and involved, but your question about how deep to go with a character is a critcal and important one.

When I cut and paste into these small dialogue boxes that All Experts provides us, often the paragraphs fail to line up.  However, I don't feel that will present a problem in terms of your understanding the lesson.

Here she goes!

LESSON FOUR ¡V HIRING THE CREW; Exposition, Dialogue,
and Action

Includes: Script, Manuscript, and Short Story.

  How many of you have been told it is wrong to sit in judgment?
  The entire room acknowledges the question.
  Well, I'm here to tell you that's not true.
  A writer is the crew supervisor, a pied piper forging an active, evolving link between reader and character ¡V an empathic lifeline.
  Empathy allows us to decentralize our egoistic being and walk in our fellow's footprints, to know another's feelings and thoughts.  This knowledge carries the ability to anticipate another's actions, to characterize an individual.  
Evolution equipped us with all of the required elements to sit in judgment, and in many cases our survival depends on it!  So, if we write our cast of characters in such a way that they require our audience to judge them, well, then we are involving our audience on a deep level, a level that is important and meaningful.  We are giving our audience well-drawn characters.  
Certain pieces of the mystery are needed to form a judgment, and the audience will wander through their own depths - that which they bring to the story - and the story's labyrinth in search of those pieces.  This is involving your audience in an intense discovery process; they won't be able to walk out on your film or put down your book!
  Memorable characters are those with whom we've felt a bottom line empathic link.  That bottom line is a philosophical arena where a gladiator faces one's 'yes' and one's 'no'.  The effect of a bottom line is that it strongly dictates a person's horizons.
  However, the people we characterize are transcendent creatures.  At any moment in our lives, we live as a bit more and a bit different than the sum total of our experiences.  We meet life creatively taking risks, facing our 'no' and changing it to a resounding 'yes!'  Exceeding our bottom line, we accomplish new horizons.  There may be nothing new under the sun, but each of us views this hoary universe through our experiential eyes, at the same time transcending that vision, adding something more, making the universe our own personal journey.  Psychologists call this transcending experience completing a Gestalt.  Writers call it a character arc.
  Let's take a moment to examine a remark I just made: "At any moment in our lives, we live as a bit more and a bit different than the sum total of our experiences."  
  Well, so, consider the sum of your life experiences, and here you are, sitting here - all of you in the same room, however, perceiving existence differently from one another.  You occupy the same space, but you do not 'live' in the same space!  Imagine you are an astronaut.  You've literally experienced what it is like to not be the center of the universe.  You've floated around up there in the great whatever and have actually stared into the face of an infinite universe owning no center, no edges, nothing to define it!  Now, let me tell you this: when you splash back down to earth, you will never exist as you were before you left.  As a character walking the earth, you are forever changed and dramatically different from the rest of humanity.  As writers, it is our job to discover and emphasize the dramatic differences between characters.
  For purposes of writing character, an empathic lifeline, while important, is not enough.  Characters that leap off the page evoke more than our empathy.  They possess an ability to surprise us by transcending their bottom line.  A character demonstrates its arc through the living Gestalt.  Please, don't misunderstand me.  When I talk about the act of transcending, I am not referring to stages of growth.  There are no stages - only a single dynamic stage where we gradually become available to all that we are, all that is our universe.  When we write characters, we describe a dynamic availability process.  Memorable characters are a combination of what we know about them and their ability to realize the unknown, the potential of their journey.  A character exceeding her bottom line to realize her potential is said to have a strong arc.
  Pro-active characters, characters that meet life creatively and 'make it happen', will have strong arcs.  Reactionary characters, those who are victims of their circumstances, have flat arcs.
  Let's list in order the four elements of a memorable character:

1.    Establishment of reader/character empathic lifeline.
2.    Audience anticipation of character's bottom line, and     what such a character's horizons are likely to be.
3.    Audience surprise - character exceeding his bottom line, and demonstrating new horizons.
4.    A new bottom line ¡V arc complete.

We understand what it means to develop a character arc, but as writers, what tools and building materials are available to help us construct this arc?  If I, as the crew supervisor, am going to shout orders at some big mean palooka swinging a sledgehammer, shouldn't I get to know him first?
The available writing tools are narrative description through exposition, dialogue, action, and environment.  Words sculpt a living, breathing, three dimensional character leaping off the page and standing toe to toe with us, confronting us, pitting his wits against ours, challenging our sense of values, forcing our search for answers.  One strong line placed just so in a book or film will challenge our values in a personal sense and hook us, forcing us to question the character through questioning ourselves.  Remember the line from the film Jerry McGuire?
The whole room shouts in unison, "Show me the money!"
I know for a fact that my agent will never forget that film as long as he lives.  Why?  Because that single line encompasses the three dimensions of character.
The three dimensions of character are our building blocks: the physical dimension, the emotional and intellectual dimension, and the expressive and interactive dimension.
I want to read an example of how Woody Allen uses the tools of narrative exposition and description to nail down the physical dimension of Brisseau from his short work, The Condemned:

"Brisseau was asleep in the moonlight.  Lying on his back in bed, with his fat stomach jutting into the air and his mouth forming an inane smile, he appeared to be some kind of inanimate object, like a large football or two tickets to the opera.  A moment later, when he rolled over and the moonlight seemed to strike him from a different angle, he looked exactly like a twenty-seven piece starter set of silverware, complete with salad bowl and soup tureen...."

  Allen has found his writer's voice in the absurd simile.  For him it is not enough to simply narrate a straightforward description.  He compares the girth and nature of Brisseau's physical dimensions to familiar inanimate objects.  Notice also, in the act of sleep, Woody Allen reminds us his character is alive by having him move; he smiles and rolls over.  Brisseau is alive in a place and time.  An environment is established; it is a moonlit night and Brisseau lies in bed.
  Woody Allen, in narrating his description of Brisseaus's physical dimension, has defined that description by using simile, action, and environment.  It's important that these three items link together - by that, I mean support one another - and that a wholistic description grows from that linking.
  Philip Roth is a master of character.  In The Ghost Writer, Roth constructs an emotional, intellectual dimension for the character of author E.I. Lonoff through dialogue, a telling monologue that Lonoff delivers to the story's protagonist, Nathan Zuckerman, at their first meeting.  Who will read?

  "...'I turn sentences around.  That's my life.  I write a sentence and then I turn it around.  Then I look at it and I turn it around again.  Then I have lunch.  Then I come back in and write another sentence.  Then I have tea and turn the new sentence around.  Then I read the two sentences over and turn them both around.  Then I lie down on my sofa and think.  Then I get up and throw them out and start from the beginning.  And if I knock off from this routine for as long as a day, I'm frantic with boredom and a sense of waste.  Sundays I have breakfast late and read the papers with Hope.  Then we go for a walk in the hills, and I'm haunted by the loss of all that good time.  I wake up Sunday mornings and I'm nearly crazy at the prospect of all those unusable hours.  I'm restless, I'm bad-tempered, but she's a human being too, you see, so I go.  To avoid trouble she makes me leave my watch at home.  The result is that I look at my wrist instead.  We're walking, she's talking, then I look at my wrist ¡V and that generally does it, if my foul mood hasn't already.  She throws in the sponge and we come home.  And at home what is there to distinguish Sunday from Thursday?  I sit back down at my little Olivetti and start looking at sentences and turning them around.  And I ask myself, why is there no way but this for me to fill my hours?'..."

  Thank you.  That was excellent!  From the character's own words we understand his emotional life of frustration and emptiness, because intellectually he views his writing activity as an act of futility.  He writes out of desperation to fill the void of his hours because he knows only how to survive, not how to live.
  E.I. Lonoff's dimensional processes are real for us because he has action - the same repetitious action.  He moves around the room from his Olivetti to the couch, or he walks on Sunday mornings.  He lives in an environment of place and time, his study, the same study day in and day out, in the mornings and afternoons.  The futile repetition of his life is a concrete metaphor for his living irony ¡V a writer, a creative artist who is stymied by the prospect of creating a life.  His inability to live the Gestalt is his bottom line.
  Philip Roth has forged an empathic lifeline.  As readers, we feel we know Lonoff.  We can predict a fair amount of his activity and reactions.  Again, as did Woody Allen in the previous excerpt, Roth presents the character as a wholistic picture of linked elements.
  The expressive, interactive dimension of a character evidences itself in actions and reactions to life, dynamics familiar to us all, but within a personal journey reflecting a character's own nature.  Francis Phelan, a family man with a home, wife, and new baby boy, was not much of a character until he accidentally dropped the baby.  The baby's death devastated Francis, who unable to face his family or himself, deserted the life he'd known to ride the rails as a hobo and a roughneck drunk.  In William Kennedy's novel, Ironweed, Francis Phelan, a road weary bum, has at long last returned to his hometown where he and his friend, Rudy, are about to hit up the local mission for hot soup on a cold night.  They discover a woman in a drunken stupor outside the mission.  And, by the way, in case you've forgotten, Ironweed became adapted for the screen, because a story is a story.

"...'She a bum or just on a heavy drunk?'
   'She's a bum.'
  'She looks like a bum.'
  'She's been a bum all her life.'
  'No,' said Francis.  'Nobody's a bum all their life.  She hada been somethin' once.'
  'She was a whore before she was a bum.'
  'And what about before she was a whore?'
  'I don't know,' Rudy said.  'She just talks about whorin' in Alaska.  Before that I guess she was just a little kid.'
  'Then that's somethin'.  A little kid's somethin' that ain't a bum or a whore.'
  Francis saw Sandra's missing shoe in the shadows and retrieved it.  He set it beside her left foot, then squatted and spoke into her left ear.
  'You gonna freeze here tonight, you know that?  Gonna be frost, freezin' weather.  Could even snow.  You hear?  You oughta get yourself inside someplace outa the cold.  Look, I slept the last two nights in the weeds and it was awful cold, but tonight's colder already than it was either of them nights.  My hands is half froze and I only been walkin' two blocks.  Sandra?  You hear what I'm sayin'?  If I got you a cup of hot soup would you drink it?  Could you?  You don't look like you could but maybe you could.  Get a little hot soup in, you don't freeze so fast.  ...You want some soup?'
  Sandra turned her head and with one eye looked up at Francis.
  'Who you?'
  'I'm just a bum,' Francis said.  'But I'm sober and I can get you some soup.'
  ...'Just because you're drunk don't mean you ain't cold,' he said to Rudy.
  'Right,' said Rudy.  'Who said that?'
  'I said that, you ape.'
  'I ain't no ape.'
  'Well you look like one.'..."

  A woman in the front of the room comments:  
  "You read that exceptionally well.  I couldn't help noticing that you became a bit emotional."
  Thank you.  There were dramatic elements in the book that touched me, that may have, in a sense, paralleled my own life.  For me the book was not pleasant.  However, disturbing, it was so excellent, it manipulated me and I found the subtext so compelling that I could not put it down.  Film, which is normally a more forceful, in your face medium, was not as strong for me as the book.
But, I wanted to say this about the piece we just heard.  Coming from a life experienced between bottles, another man might have stolen Sandra's shoes, rolled her, stripped her clean and sold everything for the next bottle, but not Francis Phelan.  Through his interaction with Rudy and Sandra, we come to know Francis as not just a bum.  His streetwise advice and his offer to bring Sandra hot soup are expressions of sweetness, a respect for the living, a peculiar nobility we understand as being the character of Frances Phelan.
  William Kennedy did not tell us that Francis was noble.  He allowed us to discover it through hearing Francis' words and witnessing his deeds.
  You know, I was just thinking, so often we peer out at the universe from a protected place within our flesh and we think what a harsh, unforgiving life this is.  Consider, if you wish to write about life in the round, that nobility and grace often walk this earth disguised.  If you'll pardon me, there are refreshments on the table and I must take a break.


  Strong fiction links all of the above elements, the tools and the building materials, into one structural whole, constructing a memorable picture of story and character.  Dialogue, action, and environment are used simultaneously to aid a character in realizing its physical, mental and emotional, and expressive and interactive dimensions.
  Let's examine how Herman Melville used narrative exposition, description, and dialogue in Moby Dick to nail down two characters in a nineteenth century New England inn room for the night.  Ishmael, a would-be whaler, lies silently in bed in the darkness.  His roommate has arrived late and is unaware of Ishmael's presence.  The two have never met before.  Pay close attention to how dialogue, action, and environment grow together:

  "...Taking up his tomahawk from the table, he examined the head of it for an instant, and then holding it to the light, with his mouth at the handle, he puffed out great clouds of tobacco smoke.  The next moment the light was extinguished, and this wild cannibal, tomahawk between his teeth, sprang into bed with me.  I sang out, I could not help it now; and giving a sudden grunt of astonishment he began feeling me.  
  Stammering out something, I knew not what, I rolled away from him against the wall, and then conjured him, whoever or whatever he might be, to keep quiet, and let me get up and light the lamp again.  But his guttural responses satisfied me at once that he but ill comprehended my meaning.  
  'Who-e debel you?'¡Xhe at last said¡X'you no speake, damme, I kill-e.'  And so saying the lighted tomahawk began flourishing about me in the dark.
  'Landlord, for God's sake, Peter Coffin!' shouted I.  'Landlord!  Watch!  Coffin!  Angels!  Save me!'
  'Speak-e!  Tell-ee me who-ee be, or dam-me, I kill-e!' again growled the cannibal, while his horrid flourishings of the tomahawk scattered the hot tobacco ashes about me till I thought my linen would get on fire.  But thank heaven, at that moment the landlord came into the room light in hand, and leaping from the bed I ran up to him.
  'Don't be afraid now,' said he, grinning again.  'Queequeg wouldn't harm a hair of your head.'
  'Stop your grinning,' shouted I, 'and why didin't you tell me that that infernal harpooneer was a cannibal?'
  'I thought ye know'd it;--didn't I tell ye, he was a peddlin' heads around town?¡Xbut turn flukes again and go to sleep.  Queequeg, look here¡Xyou sabbee me, I sabbee you¡Xthis man sleepe you¡Xyou sabbee?'¡X
  'Me sabbee plenty'¡Xgrunted Quequeg, puffing away at his pipe and sitting up in bed.
  'You gettee in,' he added, motioning to me with his tomahawk, and throwing the clothes to one side.  He really did this in not only a civil but a really kind and charitable way.  I stood looking at him a moment.  For all his tattooings he was on the whole a clean, comely looking cannibal.  What's all this fuss I have been making about, thought I to myself¡Xthe man's a human being just as I am: he has just as much reason to fear me, as I have to be afraid of him.  Better sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunken Christian.
  'Landlord," said I, 'tell him to stash his tomahawk there, or pipe, or whatever you call it; tell him to stop smoking, in short, and I will turn in with him.  But I don't fancy having a man smoking in bed with me.  It's dangerous.  Besides, I aint insured.'
  This being told to Queequeg, he at once complied, and again politely motioned me to get into bed¡Xrolling over to one side as much as to say¡XI wont touch a leg of ye.
  'Good night, landlord,' said I, 'you may go.'
  I turned in, and never slept better in my life¡K."

  This scene is Queequeg's introduction into the story of Moby Dick, and he establishes his bottom line immediately.  With the threat of a tomahawk, we think we know what Queequeg's all about.  It is surprising then, when he so easily accepts Ishmael as a bedmate, exceeding his bottom line, and forcing us to accept that his character will not be easy to anticipate.  Between the time he brandishes the tomahawk pipe, and the time he politely stashes it away, he evolves from a mere violent savage to a man of sensitivity, aware of the politics of civil behavior.  Melville has allowed us to discover that Queequeg is a complex character capable of surprises.
  What does this scene tell us about Ishmael and does his attitude reflect his time and place?  Ishmael is a man who has his 'yes' and his 'no'.  What are they and does he exceed his bottom line?
  Does Queequeg challenge us to analyze anything within ourselves?
  Notice that although Queequeg and Ishmael share the same bed at the same inn, Melville must contrast that each experiences a different relationship to their universe, because each man evolved out of an entirely different cultural context.  So, there is yet a third contextual relationship that evolves between two men who have their humanity in common, but their mode of survival and expression of that humanity is divergent.  Out of this divergence, the two must discover a common ground if they are to close their eyes and trust.  This is a deeply layered scene.  The entire relationship of Queequeg and Ishmael is rife with subtext.  We cannot read it without calling into question our own belief systems and judgments.


  We've learned that a whole character - its spiritual life and view point, as well as its physical life and material activities - is evidenced by linking dialogue, action, and environment.  For the moment, let's look at each element separately.


Volumes have been unnecessarily written on the art of dialogue.  Simplicity is best.  If you want to write great dialogue, listen to the maddening crowd.  Our ability to communicate self-awareness couched in words of hopes and dreams, suffering and challenges, to speak with one another about our daily lives, is uniquely human.  When two people touch each other using words, they discover a dialogue.  Often, what makes our dialogue fascinating is that we ask questions no other species can ask.  Well written dialogue is probing and begs a reply:

"We make love, and you claim in the heat of passion to love me, but what's that?  I'm a White conquest, that's all.  I wonder sometimes, afterwards, do you know me?  Do I hold an attraction for you beneath my flesh?"

Sitting in a coffee shop, I overheard the woman in the next booth ask those questions of her gentleman friend.  I sat riveted to my spot, praying the waitress would not speak requesting my order until I'd heard the gentleman's reply.  I knew there wasn't a way to honestly answer his date's questions without revealing something intimate about himself; about the way he conducts his relationships.  I had to know if he lived in fear of human commitment, or was he a sincere individual?  Perhaps, his words would reveal him as selfish.  Would his feelings echo any of my own?  Like most people, I wondered how much alike we were.  How different?  I knew that his reply, if genuine, if spoken from the heart, must be a revealing one.  I found myself wishing to empathize and identify with my kind.  Interesting dialogue reveals character:

"That you venture to query is evil."  Below the table, he took one of her hands in his.  "I love your evil.  Of course, you're a White conquest, but a brown-skinned woman would be passive and never dare ask.  They like to feel they have no choice in the matter, and we senƒjors, we like it that way."

As I suspected, he's a chauvinist cad!  Wait, he's breathing the deep breath, winding up for the big pitch, the con de la con.  Oh, sweetheart, watch yourself.  This man can't be trusted:

"Except that I was born different, not a senƒjor, but a poet.  I was born to step outside my culture, to transcend it, so that I'm very much a Mexican and still something more.  To be a poet is to give it up in front of the world, for your audience, it's machismo cracking, breaking down."

Amazing!  A pitch out of left field.  A con so brilliant and unexpected, hell, I have to admire the guy!  It's a new spin on the "I'm really a sensitive man" routine.  He's hooked me.  This unexpected twist has captured my attention for the duration of the dialogue.  Unexpected revelations in a dialogue draw in the audience:

"I think you're macho," she said, hoping he wouldn't stab her in the back with her admission that she'd found something attractive in him.
"Don't ask me to tell you that you're a goddess.  I don't want a damn goddess.  I want an evil, White woman, and so what if my love grows from my passion?  I'm passionate about something under your flesh, beyond your flesh.  That you have the effrontery, even in secret, to imagine that you might not be the woman your culture means you to be, that you have the gall to believe it's your right to question and change, to assert, and to a man!  To the senƒjor!  Yes, there's something under the flesh which will never change and that I love about you.  I call it your evil.  I call it your whiteness.  What does it matter what I call it?  I must have it."

I scribbled a note on my napkin: Dialogue is probing, reveals character and motives, and takes unexpected twists that draw in the audience.  "Somebody's gonna get lucky or she's deaf," I mumbled to myself, tapping my pen on the table.  By the way, when you get caught talking to yourself that's not a dialogue, it's a soliloquy, unless you write it down and get it published ¡V then it's genius.  And, if you're discovered eavesdropping, just mention that you're a writer, a professional listener with a trained critical ear seeking to improve your craft ¡V then run!  This running part is called action.    
  Characters act.  In a script, the action is written in narrative blocks separated from the dialogue.  Action is usually bold - airplanes crash and bodies burn; men get thrown from speeding trains; desperadoes ride out of town on large horses in a cloud of dust; at the least, bodies move across studio stages and back lots.  
    Here is an action sequence block from the screenplay Bonnie And Clyde written by David Newman and Robert Benton:


  He reaches over the counter into the cash drawer and grabs the bills.  He smiles.  Suddenly looming beside Clyde is the butcher, brandishing a meat cleaver.  Camera looks up at this formidable sight as the cleaver comes crashing down, missing Clyde and sticking in the wooden counter.  He grabs Clyde around the chest in a bear hug and actually lifts him off the ground.  The struggle is in silence.  Clyde is terrified, fighting wildly to get free.  The gun in Clyde's hand is pinned, because the man has Clyde's arm pinned to his thigh.  Clyde tries to raise the barrel at an upward angle to shoot; finally, he is able to do so.  He fires.  The bullet enters the butcher's stomach.  The butcher screams, but reacts like a wounded animal, more furious than ever¡K."

  However, action is not always bold.  People often gesticulate with hands and arms while speaking.  The head moves, eyes wince, lips smile or pout, knees bounce up and down, and these subtle activities impart life to the character of Clouk (later to become the famous Cheri) from Colette's short story Clouk:

  "Clouk lifts one shoulder, sticks out a dubious lower lip, and his monocle falls.  He wipes it, then applies it once again to his right eye, with a carefulness he knows is vain, for the monocle refuses to stay put for long on his soft little face, made, one might say, of pink butter.
¡K  He too is smoking, his eyes on the entrance, and shivers each time the door is opened: what if, after her performance, Lulu had the idea to come have supper?  
¡K  He barely gives it a thought, he doesn't think about it anymore, it's over, but each time the revolving door gleams and spins, he trembles imperceptibly¡K."

  The third element, environment, fixes the character in space and time.  One of my favorite authors for environment is Richard Brautigan.  His descriptive syntax is straight forward, and his similes often evoke imagery that is immediate and so direct as to cause the page to disappear.  Here is an excerpt from Trout Fishing In America, 'Knock On Wood (part two)':

  "One spring afternoon as a child in the strange town of Portland, I walked down to a different street corner, and saw a row of old houses, huddled together like seals on a rock.  Then there was a long field that came covered with green grass and bushes.  On top of the hill there was a grove of tall, dark trees.  At a distance I saw a waterfall come pouring down off the hill.  It was long and white and I could almost feel its cold spray.  
  There must be a creek there, I thought, and it probably has trout in it¡K.
  ¡KBut as I got closer to the creek I could see that something was wrong.  The creek did not act right.  There was a strangeness to it.  There was a thing about its motion that was wrong.  Finally I got close enough to see what the trouble was.
  The waterfall was just a flight of white wooden stairs leading up to a house in the trees¡K.
  ¡KThen I knocked on my creek and heard the sound of wood¡K."
         Is Richard Brautigan really describing Portland, or a waterfall and creek, or the fresh nature of a child's vision?  Often, in Brautigan's work, the environment and character are one and the same.
  Once again, by linking elements, using dialogue, action, and environment simultaneously, James Baldwin writes in his novel, Just Above My Head, the story of Hall Montana who has recently been notified of his brother Arthur's death:

  "¡KI see Arthur standing in this kitchen, looking through the windows.
  'I know,' he said, 'that you think I ain't never satisfied with nothing, and¡XI guess¡Xthat's true.  In a way.'
  Then he stopped, and looked at me.  I was sitting where I'm sitting now.
  'You don't know, and I don't know what that means¡Xnever to be satisfied with nothing.  But man' ¡Vthen he had laughed; he had been drinking Scotch and milk; all of the landscape's waning colors turned to fire in his glass¡X'this place sucks.  With a straw.  You ever look into the faces of these people?  Oh, baby.  Shit.  How did that happen?'
  'We just want to be free,' I said.  'We couldn't all make it to Canada.  Some of us had to stop here.'
  Arthur laughed, walking up and down this kitchen, but the sound was not the sound of release.  Then he stood still before the window, his glass in one hand, his back to me, as still and as astounded as a prisoner.  
  The failing sun abruptly burned him, then, into what I would come to call my memory.
  'Nobody,' Arthur said, 'is happy here.'  He sounded, really, like a child.  I wanted to say¡XI think I wanted to say, Oh, shit, man, get over that: but I didn't say anything.  'I wonder what goes on behind all these careful shutters.  It can't be nothing.  But ' ¡Vhe finished his drink and turned to face me¡X'it sure don't seem to be something.  It would show.'  He raised his eyes to mine.  'Wouldn't it?' ¡K"


  Narrative description, dialogue, action, and environment, are used to nail together the building blocks of the physical dimension, emotional and intellectual dimension, and the expressive and interactive dimension of character.  Whether you are writing a film script, short story, or a novel manuscript, the basic principles discussed above must apply.
  However, each form owns its peculiarities.  In a film script, the dialogue and action are written in separate blocks.  Also, in a film script - unlike the novel manuscript example from Moby Dick above - the character's particular voice is 'hinted' at in an effort to maintain a page that reads smooth and appears open to interpretation by the actors and director.  Unlike the short story or novel manuscript - both having space for subtleties of character - the film script presents a conflict quickly, and an obvious character arc.


Shawn, if you made it this far, you have a lot to work with here.  If you feel you received the answers you were after, take a moment to let All Experts know (that let's me know I didn't miss my mark).

My Best,
Youngbear Roth  

Writing Books

All Answers

Answers by Expert:

Ask Experts


M.L. 'Max' Roth, Executive Editor


My specialist area is literary and philosophical fiction. I am pleased to answer all queries regarding story, plot, character arc and development, environment, structure, theme, subtext, and conflict.


Past/Present clients
Numerous client references may be found at: under 'References'. Their contact information is available on request.

©2017 All rights reserved.

[an error occurred while processing this directive]