HOW TO DEVELOP CHARACTER
“Let them eat cake,” allegedly stated by Marie Antoinette when she discovered that the peasants had no bread.
The reason that we’re looking at this today is because it’s a great way to characterize your characters. In Marie’s alleged statement, she flippantly assumes that everyone can live the lavish life that she enjoys strolling the halls of the castle where cake is a prerequisite to the beginning of the day. However, as we know, that is not the case.
But I think we should take this self-characterizing statement a bit further. Not only should we think of the phrase as a way to sum up a character’s persona, but what if we took the statement literally? What if we actually allowed our characters to eat cake?? What if we allowed them to sit down at a meal and make complete fools of themselves?
Think about it. When do we ever get to really know someone? At work? Nope! We’ll all politicians at our jobs. We have to be, right? But, if we invite someone over for dinner, we can truly see who they are. This is a great way to bring your characters to a focal point—a chance to let them say and do things and reflect on things that they may never have done before.
Movies often do this with bar scenes, which are a good time to throw back some drinks and allow your characters to let their hair down over a few shots. Typically I’ll incorporate a few scenes like these in my novels, especially early on. They’re good segues away from the action and plot, and can really be a mental reprieve for the readers.
Here’s the catch though. Too much of anything can get you off track…or er…sick…in this case. Having your characters characterized over cake over and over again can become as redundant as a constant overhead sword-swipe from your hero followed by a blast of fire. The first time it’s cool. The second time it’s necessary. The third time it’s redundant. And the fourth time…it’s unreadable.
So what’s a good practice when it comes to letting your characters eat cake? Always do so with the plot in mind. Like…always. Don’t ever have this random scene with your characters where they aren’t thinking about the plot, or where the plot isn’t somewhere in the back of their minds.
Here’s a facetious example. Say the dragon swallows your characters whole, and they’re having a long conversation in his belly. Add some stomach rumblings in there from time to time to remind the reader that “Hey, we may be having some cake in here, but we still need to get out of this dragon and take him down.”
Or for you romancers out there, you can have Julianne eat cake with her best friend Marianne, but please please please remember that there’s a hunk of a man out there who is desperately waiting to wrap Julianne up in his arms so they can live happily ever after.
Whatever “cake” conversation there is, remember that it’s only for a moment. Though bear in mind that a cake conversation is absolutely necessary. Brandon Sanderson does a great job with this in all of his novels. Sure, his “Mistborn” characters are drinking metal infused cocktails and jibing about how they’re better than each other, but robbing Lord Ruler is always at the heart of it all.
Lindsay Buroker also does a great job with this. Her characters are hilarious as they down their cake, some of them not even getting a word in as they stuff their faces, while others of them are dominating the conversation with how strong and handsome they are. If you haven’t read her Emperor’s Edge series…do it, and you’ll learn how to have your cake and eat it too.