Sunday, August 3, 2014

2.845718 dimensional characters

I was thinking about character development in writing. Not my character, mind you, but the characters in my works.

It occurs to me that the easiest way to churn out a romance is to use cookie-cutter plots and flat two-dimensional characters. A sweet young lady in desperate straights meets a billionaire (in the regency maybe the owner of a 100,000 pound estate), sweeps him off his feet. After a certain amount of soft-core porn, a few misunderstandings, and a tribulation or two, they get married and ride off into the sunset together. Another novel for your delectation.

I wish writing well were that easy. It isn't. One trouble is creating vaguely three-dimensional characters. Real people aren't all good all the time. They have bad days and good days. They get snappy with people. Their opinions of other people change through time, as do at least some aspects of their character. They learn. It's unrealistic to expect that a character in a story wouldn't exhibit some of these traits.

I'm not sure a fully three-dimensional character is possible in a fictional work. Hence the title, suggested by a mathematically inclined friend, with a fractal dimension of character. More than two and less than three. There's a funny Futurama episode with fractal dimensions if you're so inclined.

One trick to get more than two dimensions that I've tried is to write a character summary before I write the book. The characters change as I write the story. So these descriptions aren't quite accurate. Which you will see if you read the chapter's I've posted.
Miss Arnold is not quite as nasty as my initial estimate (who could believe anyone as nasty as her initial draft could get engaged, let alone stay that way). In fact there's a bit of a sympathetic back story to her. None the less she is the romantic foil and part of the story is the tension between her and Cecelia. It defines the people and their motivations. The circumstances they find themselves in, technically I suppose the ones I put them in, develop a more complete picture.

Here's the initial summary for Cecelia. 
What's Cecelia like?
5 ft 4 ish (tall for the time) dark brown hair, but not swarthy. Well built, but not overbuilt. In other words a more or less normal woman. Good teeth. Maybe 20.
Likes riding, walking on the highlands (downs?) near Llanthony. She's not Welsh, even though this is just into Wales. (or if she is, it's very Anglicized Welsh.) Undeterred by less than optimal weather. Socially she's more than a bit naïve. She hasn't had much practice dancing and flirting because she's living in an isolated estate and a season in London or an extended visit to Bath is just a distant dream. Maybe she's been to Gloucester, possibly Bath, but in neither case for very long. Can play the pianoforte, stitch and draw.
Good with horses, likes critters. Is quite proud of herself and her heritage. Can have a bit of a temper and should have a sharp tongue, at least about the interloper.
Painfully shy around strangers because she's not had much experience meeting new people. Deals with shyness by diverting attention with humor.
Has been to Abergavenny reasonably often and of course quite often to Llanvihangel Crucorney (in Hereford)
She lives at

George Wood

The distant cousin of Cecelia (distant enough that they can get married without a dispensation). Estate is entailed on him. Tall, handsome, but flawed. He sold his commission as a captain in the Duke's army after Badajoz (the Duke took it in 1812, there was an earlier failure in 1811 so we can take either). Slightly dishonorable to do so, but he's wounded inside and there really was no alternative. He was no longer fit to command. Nonetheless, it isn't something he's proud of. This puts him at a bit of a disadvantage – sort of as if he's always 'smelling his own shit'. (Too coarse an expression to use, but basically he has a bit of difficulty living with himself.)
PTSD aside, he's a pleasant chap. Was well-liked in the officer's mess. Not terribly well educated, the son of a Vicar in Devon (hence no estate of his own), he really likes the country and finds the cities overcrowded, smelly and too noisy. The entailment is a bit of a surprise to him, and was (partially) the excuse for his selling out. Socially he too is somewhat naive, soldiers often were during the war because the signed up as subalterns at 16, were captains by 18-20 and always busy. So while he's relatively mature, he's not been to many real balls or Bath or any of the fashionable things. He was socially out of his depth when he landed in London and was snapped up by a “man trap”, a shrewish young woman with an eye to the main chance. (more about her later). They aren't yet married, which was unusual (why? - she's in first mourning, which also makes her urgent to get hitched while she still is in society), but is understandable as he has regrets. She might but isn't above trying to make her intended do her bidding. (Think of Honoria Glossip, but less over the top.)
He's going to slowly recover his normal sense of humor and character. So when he starts he's sort of stunned and flat – not very interesting to Cecelia, who feels rightly or wrongly that he's not for her. Drinks a bit too much in the beginning much to both Miss Arnold's and Miss Wood's annoyance. Though their responses are markedly different.

Miss Jane Arnold.

Miss Arnold is the daughter of a minor nobleman. He's in gambling trouble, and her portion wouldn't be large anyway as she shares it with two brothers. (The Heir and a Spare).
Buxom, overpowering, on the large side. She knows what she wants and tries to get it. She usually does. She needs a husband. She wants one who likes Bath and London society. The eligible members of the ton avoid her like the plague ('Lady Nero' ? 'The Vampyre' ?). She scoops up Captain Wood when he is at Almacks on a 'strangers pass' (don't have to show this, they can talk about it. She can reprove him for not living up to his gallantry that evening).
The isolation of Penyclawdd really bugs her. Taking two days to get to Bath is also an annoyance (either land by Gloucester or ferry by Chepstow). Complains about Welsh orthography (“How I can I possibly live in a house where I can't pronounce the name, George?”)
She's fully willing and able to come the 'grand dame' over the local farmers and families, which doesn't go down well.
Even though they are engaged, she is on the lookout for better. That's part of why she doesn't like Penclawdd.