THE EVOLUTION OF CHARACTERS IN A NOVEL.
In my previous blog, I had discussed my problems with selecting a protagonist for my next novel. In this blog, I would discuss my problems with depicting the growth of characters in a novel with the passage of time. Normally, a novelist employs two methods . A novelist either can use some external markers like changes in the surroundings of the characters or can use some internal markers like thoughts of the characters to denote the passage of time. These, in conjunction with the emotional changes in the characters, can give a perception that these characters has evolved during the unfolding of the novel. Therefore, it is always a challenge for a novelist to bring out this perception indirectly through the creation of details of a novel as it unfolds.
While writing my first novel, I realized that, both these techniques require different skills. While using external markers to depict the changes in the characters, I had to depend on my memory of the city of Mumbai to differentiate between the old and new surroundings. The depiction of changed internal markers, on the other hand, required me to think and feel like the characters of that novel. Therefore, I chose in my first novel to restrict the geography of the plot to the one I am familiar with. Similarly, I tried to flesh out characters with the emotions and thinking of the individuals of whom I had read about or whom I had met.
However, in my second novel which would be published shortly, I have tried to be more adventurous. I chose to write about places I was not familiar with. Similarly, I have tried to flesh out characters whom I have never met. This turned out to be a creative challenge because I had to rely on my imagination to create details of these entities. Of course, in the days of Google search, it is easy to find details of the places one has never visited. However, one needs to recreate the ambience of these places. I hope I have done it well. Similarly, if one were to create a character whom one has never met, one runs a risk of falling back to stereotypes. I have tried to invest new behavioural details in such characters to make them authentic. I hope that this detailing makes these characters believable.
These might appear to be restrictive techniques. However, the key insight that I have gained is that beneath these limitations, there is something more fundamental and universal about the human existence that would come through in spite of a novelist’s limited repertoire of locales and characters. There is something in each one of us that transcends these mundane details. It is novelist’s prime objective and in fact, a moral obligation, to tease out this transcendental aspect of otherwise ordinary characters. Fortunately, I could do it reasonably well in both these novels. Of course, the readers are the final arbiters of whether I have managed to do it or not. However, I personally think that I have done a decent job of extracting the human angst from the lives of otherwise nondescript characters.
Let me now tell you how I am going to depict the evolution of characters in my third novel. As I have mentioned earlier, this novel is going to be a third person narrative. Therefore, there is no narrator. As a result, sense of continuity, both emotional and temporal, must come from the plot itself. Therefore, I have decided to describe the life of the protagonist in a narrow time span of three years from 2014 to 2017. The events in the protagonist’s life prior to this time span would find oblique references in the narrative. This is necessary because it allows me to minimise the depiction of external markers. I would be able to focus on the details of the plot unfolding.
Moreover, since the past events would surface in the plot indirectly, this would give a new complexity to the plot itself. This resurfacing of events in the protagonist’s mind, by oblique reference, would provide a tool to depict the changes in the protagonist’s mindset. Similarly, all the other characters would connect to their past indirectly by connecting to the events unfolding during these three years. Since this novel is a third person narrative, the protagonist is not really a protagonist in the conventional sense. He is a protagonist because the plot revolves around him and not because his version of the narrative is articulated. In fact, it would be proper to think of life or the plot itself being a real protagonist in which the conventional protagonist occupies a central place. The protagonist is in the centre of the plot but he is not in the centre of the novel. The centre of the novel is the human angst in the contemporary life in Mumbai.
As a result, each of these characters would evolve only marginally during the unfolding of the plot which spans three years, but it is their ability to connect to their individual pasts that would give an indication of their own perception of their personal evolution. Thus, the evolution of individual characters would be indirectly perceptible by their own reminiscences of their pasts, while the events of these years unfold. It is as if each of these characters lives these three years, but they live in the context of their individual pasts. Thus, the events are same, but how these characters interpret and react would tell readers about the evolution of each of these characters. Admittedly, this can only be done when a handful of these characters are developed in details. Therefore, there are two kinds of characters in the novel. There are characters whose lives are woven into the narrative and these are only a handful. Then, there are characters who are mere instruments to carry the plot further.
The beauty of fiction writing is that sometimes, these characters surprise the novelist. I found about this in my second novel. When I introduced a character called ‘Pakyabhai ‘ , he was merely an instrument to carry forward the plot. However, to my chagrin, he kept on reappearing in the novel without my knowledge and approval. In that sense, I can confess that this is my present intention of how this novel ought to be shaped. However, it is possible that any of the planned characters might hijack the narrative. Sometimes, the evolution of a character in a novel may overshadow the evolution of a novelist. This is true in life as well. Our own progeny sometimes overshadows us. Unlike novel, life is not a single narrative but a collection of narratives, each valid in itself and yet each being divergent from the remaining narratives. I only hope to capture this quintessence by using the third person narrative in my next novel.
In my next blog, I would discuss how complex structure of the narrative becomes when one writes a novel spanning three years but the history of thirty years.