There are many ways of thinking about time; most of them are analogies. Whether it’s grains of sand in an hourglass, ticks on a clock, running water, or whatever other inaccurate analogy used to illustrate the passage of time, time runs, and it runs for a long time.
But as a writer, all things are your ally…in one way or another, at least (But Guild Wars 2 and Reddit are most certainly your enemies, right behind Twitter and Facebook). This includes time, the great mover of all things. There are a few ways to make time work in your favor: you need only read on to find out.
To start off, you may have noticed that time and hardship have a way of bringing people together. You lock two guys in a tower for a year, and if you peek in 364 days later they’ll be playing chess, joking, reminiscing, or discussing the finer points of the anatomy of Lamborghinis. (that is, if they haven’t killed each other by then).
It’s basically a trope by this point: a prince and princess who don’t like each other but are forced to go on an adventure are bound to wind up lovers by the end. Simply by spending enough time around someone, if that someone isn’t a completely insufferable A-hole, you will grow more attached to them.
So how do you use this to your advantage? Well, video game stories use this technique in the finest of fashions: long-spanning stories in a lot of MMO games only let you advance the story every couple of levels, and so you end up spending quite a lot of time around your companions, other NPCs, etc. You grow used to them, and you eventually grow to like them.
Have you ever read a book that featured one character that didn’t you didn’t hate, but didn’t really love? Nothing about his presence annoyed you; you’d just prefer to hear stories about characters you like a lot more. He’s a recurring character, scene after scene, for 3-4 books. He’s not too important, but definitely has his role. The focus is always on other characters, so you never considered him for more than a second.
What happens if that character dies or gets kidnapped? Suddenly, you find that you care deeply for this character and want him back. It’s the old saying that goes, “You never notice it until it’s gone”. The character Spook from Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn is like this. He’s the errand boy, the wine fetcher, the guy with a weird way of speaking–until he runs into a burning building and leaves us in tears when doing so (I swear, I could virtually hear the cinematic vocal music as I read the part).
So I suggest a new approach to character development: focus on making your characters as non-insufferable as possible and provide other reasons for the reader to stick around. Opt for the “long game” approach if you can’t count on pulling amazing characters out of the proverbial magician’s hat.
This comes with a price, however: the reader is going to want something else for being along for the ride. This usually means that you beef up the worldbuilding or the plot, or have one or two other things that the reader can marvel at in lieu of amazing characters. The characters, if not outright bad, will develop into amazing characters given enough time. You just have to give the reader something else to feed on for the first 100,000 words or so, then you can get the reader to start caring about your characters. Again, this is all if you couldn’t put in the legwork to make incredible characters in the first place. (admittedly a tough feat, to be sure)
And…gee, this article is short. See you Monday, I guess?
Be sure to check out my latest novel, Book 1 in the Praetors of Lost Magic Series, and our Publications page. Plus, I mean, it wouldn’t hurt to check out the Resources tab. It’s full of super helpful material and I promise it will help you out. Until then, writers!