Do I really care about character development?

Recently, I’ve started work on writing a novel. I’m hoping that I finish this one, and since I’m more mature and a better writer than I was when I was eight years old, it stands to reason I might actually finish this one.

Problem is, I don’t really read all that much. I never much cared for reading novels, and so part of me feels as though it’s disingenuous to turn around and try to pass off one of my own. It seems like there ought to be some sort of camaraderie, where I read someone’s book, get influenced by it, take a bunch of photos of myself in these brooding poses, and then become this deep, thoughtful, introspective author.  Then in turn people will laud my great literary efforts, and I will inspire a new generation of novelists, and live forever among the pantheon of great English authors, like Shakespeare, Nicholas Sparks, and so on.

When I say I don’t really read very much, here’s pretty much everything that could vaguely be said to be a novel that I’ve read since I was a lad until the end of undergraduate.

  • Far too many Hardy Boys books to count.
  • A.C. Crispin’s “Han Solo” trilogy, based on Star Wars
  • Watership Down
  • “Chorus Skating” by Alan Dean Foster, which I picked out because 10 year old me liked how “rainbowy” the cover was.
  • About a half dozen John Grisham novels
  • Robinson Crusoe
  • The Great Gatsby

And that was pretty much it until I got my Kobo about two years back. I thought it would be neat to take up more reading, and I do love gadgets. I spent that first summer reading every single Sherlock Holmes story that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle ever read. It was public domain, and man was it awesome. I followed that up with “Around the World in 80 Days,” but then I couldn’t quite finish “The Mysterious Island.”

Then I started reading Star Trek extended universe fiction. I finished watching Deep Space Nine the third time through, and I was disappointed that story had come to an end so abruptly when the producers were getting impatient. These “added seasons” of DS9 in novel form were great, until they decided to scrap that project abruptly without even a half-ass TV style ending. So I picked up the Typhon Pact series instead. They suck.

Why am I listing more or less every novel I have ever read–without being assigned it for school, that is–in chronological order? It’s certainly not to show you how well read I am. Even Sherlock Holmes was trashy serial fiction for its day–the Star Trek Novellas of the 19th century, if you will. Rather, I’m doing this because when I tried to ween myself off of trashy Star Trek books and onto some more high brow literature, I find these reoccurring problems in reading reviews for books, or the synopsis inside the jackets of books. These books try and tell me how good they are because the characters are very complex, or well crafted, or intricate, or inviting or (insert adjective here). I just don’t care!

Some of my favorite books have featured protagonists that have no meaningful development, no intricacies of character or skeletons in their closet, and none of that smug symbolism coded in all those cuddly adjectives. Take Sherlock Holmes for example:

  • He’s a detective.
  • He knows EVERYTHING.
  • He is a world renowned expert at the most absurd things.
  • He solves mysteries for fun, and always outperforms the professional police.

Try pitching that to a publisher. I’ve never made a pitch, I don’t know how the process works, but I can only assume that you’ll never get a book with that character published for money. Now, of course, Sherlock Holmes also had a wee bit of a problem with nose candy, and so if you re-write that character map to overemphasize what a raging cokehead Holmes is, and then spend far more time in your novel celebrating his struggles with addiction, rather than watch him effortlessly solve crimes, then you got character development!

Or take Phileas Fogg from Around the World in Eighty Days. What can you tell me about his character? If you’re like me, absolutely nothing. He was a crazy, rich man who happened to do a bunch of things. It was the things that made his novel interesting, not the characters. Jules Verne set up this delightful universe, and just let his characters run around in it. There was no need for getting bogged down in their character, or what awful things they did, or what moral lesson they learned from all their travels.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this, myself. Am I bitter at pretentious literature? Am I trying to argue that books were better back in the 19th century (well, almost everything was, really)? Am I perhaps trying to say that anyone who claims interest in lavishly complex characters is a liar? I think there’s a modicum of truth in all three of those thoughts. And yet I’m not sure that’s what I want to say.

When I read a book I want a whole lot of thick, meaty plot driving the story. The characters are your puppets. Manipulate them, make them do things. Don’t describe them to me. I don’t care that the protagonist has a nagging limp from this time he fell off his grandpa’s carriage that summer in Edinburgh, and that he cries whenever it rains on a Tuesday. Similarly, I don’t especially care what kind of alabaster is used to fashion the vase in the corner of the protagonist’s house that never features at all in the story.

I can’t decide if my gripes about books I’ve tried reading means that I should give up writing, or conversely, if it means that I should work doubly hard to write a novel, because I haven’t found enough books that conform to the tacky, unsophisticated, low brow world view of people like me.


My first ever…*sigh* “blog” entry.

I shudder at the thought of starting a blog, but I’ve finally given up.

I have so many worthless opinions that need to come out on any given day, and I’m no longer satiating myself with Twitter and Facebook and bathroom graffiti…

I’ve had several websites, in many incarnations. I always chose to do HTML by hand, in Notepad, because I felt like it was more honest than having WordPress just churn out some cookie cutter website crap for me. And it was always a “website,” and never a “blog.” Why is that? What’s the significance of one versus another?

Blog is a disgusting sounding word. It rhymes with “hog,” “flog,” “clog,” and “smog,” and so I lump it in the same category as those things. But it’s not simply the word that irritates me. It’s people who self-identify by their blogs. Watch the 24-hour news channels, and hear them talk about what “The Bloggers” are saying about any given political move in Ottawa and Washington. Suddenly, the unsolicited drivel of some internet stranger has potency; has meaning beyond his immediate circle of relatives and friends.

That’s wrong! That is complete and utter B.S., and I won’t stand for it. Let me be the first to say that my opinions have no value whatsoever, and that you should ignore them any chance you get. In fact, reading this is a complete waste of time, and I suggest that you re-evaluate your priorities in life.

So I told myself that my series of ramblings in reverse chronological order on my “website” did not give rise to a full blog, they merely mimicked many of the features of a blog, but were separate and distinct. I realize now that was a lie. So I may as well cave in and have something with flush columns and decent formatting, not something that I can’t even go back and fix, because of all the bloated code that GoDaddy puts on top of my bare notepad manifesti.

Who knows? Maybe if enough people read my blog, I will become a world renowned blogger, just like those people whose names I cannot recall, and faces I couldn’t describe. I will be invited to a roundtable full of bloggers, and we’ll blog away about how bloggy our blogs are.

But let’s be sensible about this. You can’t just blog about anything and expect to steal the job of a paid journalist by undercutting his or her entire salary. You need to tackle hard hitting issues that people are passionate about, and then blame your least favorite politician find creative solutions for them. Here is my first list of issues I wish to tackle:

  • My arm hurts where they gave me that tetanus shot.
  • I need to buy some milk, but it’s raining outside.
  • The mechanics need to hurry up and get that replacement air filter for my car.

I don’t know how to fix any of these, because they all seem interconnected. If I take an umbrella with me, I have to carry milk with the arm that hurts. And if I call the mechanic and complain they’re taking too long, I assume he’s going to beat me with a tire iron, and then I won’t have any free hands with which to buy milk! You understand the predicament I’m in.

I never know how to end these things. Also, I don’t tend to leave posts open for comments, because I enjoy having a bully pulpit from which to pontificate!