I've done a fair amount of critiques in the past four months, and I've had some thoughts I realized it might be interesting to share for general discussion purposes. One of the biggest things that I've noticed seems to make or break a story for me as a reader is character interaction (or the lack thereof). Essentially, any story where the focus is almost entirely on one character has to work much harder to hold my attention than a story that has multiple characters interacting with each other.
There are a few different reasons for this:
Good dialogue is full of conflict, and conflict is interesting.
Shorter paragraphs let the eye move more quickly, which gives the illusion (and often the reality) of speedier reading.
Multiple characters mean multiple viewpoints, which gives the reader more characters to identify (or disagree) with.
On a related note, I'm always sad when I see an important conversation summarized in one paragraph instead of being played out between the relevant characters. That always seems like a missed opportunity to me. HUGE fan of dialogue, here.
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Dramatic prose ought should at least evolve around the latter five, pivot about the middle of the lot oriented on antagonism's want and problem -- satisfactions thereof for complication. Clash of wills is essential for drama, reader effect, interest, and engagement.
Clashes take two personas to lambada; three is a party-riot. Personas need not be two or more characters, though a stuck-in-the-bathtub narrative is likely and challenging without two or more characters in clash. One character could have an internal clash of moral personas, actually, best practice that a character have clashing personas. One persona is in moral transition between clashes, probably a coincidence of an external clash, if not at a standstill -- static, in other words.
The term "conflict" generally used for character theory is a comparatively recent development, though traces span the opus. Critical secondary and tertiary analysis credits a number of theorists with first use of the term for literary application as early as the eighteenth century' oughts, though generally associated with Realism's nineteen century emergence and heyday. At that, not much to go on beyond vague principles, let alone realizable conventions and customs.
Generally, how many writers, critics, and readers use "conflict" comprises several principles, includes "complication" and theme and meaning and moral condition.
Gardner, Hills, Chatman, Booth, and Knight each speak of dialogue as a necessary narrative component, though are unclear about what else comprises effective and dynamic conversation scene development. For that, a mnemonic offers clearer guidance: Description, Introspection, Action, Narration, Emotion, Sensation, Summarization, Exposition, _Conversation_, Recollection, Explanation, and Transition -- DIANE'S SECRET. Without at least several of the former, especially sensation and emotion clashes, a conversation risks dialogue heaviness. The dozen composition modes are as necessary, if not more so, than speech words themselves and overlap each other for a symphonic synergy. They are context and texture for speech and thought. Add in Antagonism, Causation, and Tension -- ACT --, plus echo, non sequitur, squabble, colloquy, and question and answer conversational interaction, and dialogue drama's your oyster.
One point on which many character theorists agree, everyone has an agenda at odds with others', and each conceals true agendas, even from the self. The agenda is the same and also at odds internally; that is, a moral complication of self-involved wants and problems at odds with socially responsible outcomes.
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For me, the number of characters is irrelevant providing those that are there have depth, complexity, and veritas. Tragedy, and it's child, Drama, revolves around the conflict, or contest, between two forces expressing some part of the human condition in opposition. Good vs. Evil, Right vs. Wrong, What I want to do vs. my Conscience.
IMHO you can have all the conflict and dialogue of the biggest Hollywood blockbuster with a single character fighting their own desires and impulses.
"I know what I should do, but the cost. Oh, the cost!"
quote:Originally posted by Disgruntled Peony: On a related note, I'm always sad when I see an important conversation summarized in one paragraph instead of being played out between the relevant characters. That always seems like a missed opportunity to me. HUGE fan of dialogue, here.
When I crit this is often one of my specific gripes: Don't summarize this here scene, especially not this here important or transitional scene.
Single-character scenes are more likely to suffer from excessive summarization. One way to avoid that is to regard the situation and/or environment as another character, and let the live-action character interact with it on that basis. Characters with a habit of talking to themselves can be real handy... given that most people who talk to themselves are actually talking to something in their environment.
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