Pirates + interpersonal conflict = emotionally resonant storytelling
Getting to know the characters you’re writing is one thing. It’s a Very Important Thing, and if you’re looking for ways to dig in and uncover the fine details that bring your character to life – from the simple habits that make them tick to the big ideas that shape the way they see themselves and the world around them – I’ve written about that here and here and also here.
But now, armed with in-depth information about your protagonist’s favourite colour, their date of birth, extended family, political affiliation, star signs and all the rest, the question becomes: how do you allow this fully rounded, complex and layered sentient being to reveal themselves to your reader? How do you demonstrate their character development across the course of your narrative, so that the person we meet in the first act is appreciably changed by the time we arrive at the end? How do we manifest that change in a way that’s comprehensible to readers without overstating or devolving into huge chunks of exposition?
I’m glad you asked. And not just because it offers me the excuse to dig into a bit of character analysis in my absolute favourite show. Partly that, too. But it’s relevant, I swear.
Warning: major spoilers follow for Season 1* of Our Flag Means Death. I’m going to be discussing elements of the two central characters’ arcs that are absolutely fundamental to the heart of the story, so if you haven’t seen it and you’re planning to… probably go and watch it before you read on. (You can thank me later.)
How to create depth and engagement... by acting like a two-year-old
This is the hill I will die on: great characters can paper over a flimsy plot, but a great plot can’t disguise underdeveloped characterisation.
Characters are the most important tool in a writer’s arsenal. They’re the mechanism through which a reader enters your world; they’re the vehicle through which your reader will travel the narrative journey you’ve laid out. They don’t have to be likeable (CF: Heathcliff and Cathy in Wuthering Heights, who are just relentlessly awful to everyone they meet, and still manage to take the top spot in a poll of literature’s greatest lovers) and we absolutely do not have to agree with everything they say or do. But they must be recognisable.
Tips, tricks & advice to help your writing shine
Blog updates on the first of every month.