Posts Tagged ‘Artistic Unity’

As I’m sure I’ve already mentioned, character writing is my favorite part of the fiction process. Nothing else–except maybe the finished product–is as satisfying to me personally as the moment a character begins to tell his or her story. Sometimes, they reveal themselves in slow sections, teasing you with their secrets and the private details of their personas. Sometimes, they come fully-formed in an in-your-face moment of undeniable clarity.

My intrigue with the process of character development is what keeps me writing, and it is what has prompted me to elaborate on it here, and dig a little deeper into some of the characters I’ve created, with the purpose of learning more about the mystery of it in general, and maybe even learning a little more about my own process. And, one of the most frequently asked questions any writer receives is about the development of characters, so I thought it might also be fun for the folks who have read my work to see the inner workings of my imaginary friends 🙂


The first character that comes to mind, for some reason, is Brytt Tanner, Sterling Bronson’s dim-witted side-kick in Beautiful Monster, so I’ll start with him.

Brytt came into existence pretty early on in the plotting of Monster,  and if I remember correctly, it all started–as it often does–with his name. My co-author, Mimi A. Williams, met a man named Brytt in the workplace. The moment she mentioned the guy’s name, I knew I had to use it.

The first thing I knew about Brytt was that he was a stripper. I’m not sure why that was–again, probably the name. It just sounds kind of strippery, I guess.


Next came his physical appearance. I figured a bulky, muscle-bound blond guy would be an interesting antithesis to Sterling’s dark, brooding good looks. I don’t like to create characters who look too much alike, and second, I’m a sucker for contrast. After ascertaining the basics of Brytt’s appearance, the next thing I did was start browsing the internet for his doppelgänger. This isn’t something I always do, but at times, I’ve found it helpful. So, I found a photograph of a guy that fit the mold, and referred to said picture when I needed to expound on details. I considered posting that picture here, but have ultimately decided against it. I think it’s best to let readers fill in their own blanks and use their own imaginations.

Not all of Brytt was pre-planned. He–like all good characters–came with a little of his own agenda, and one of the first things that surprised me was his dim-wittedness. I don’t know that I would have deliberately created him to be such a lunkhead, but as is so often the case, this is how he kind of “revealed” himself as I wrote him.

And it worked… which is also very often the case when you trust your characters to do their own things.


It was also a surprise to me that Brytt was almost–but not quite–as morally corrupt, sexually deviant, and as dangerous as Sterling. In the beginning, Brytt was created, I think, simply as a means to give Sterling–who lives by himself–more opportunity for dialogue. But as the story progressed and began to demand artistic unity, Brytt began to play a significant role in the novel.

Brytt’s last name was tricky. A strange thing happened as we got further into the story. We started noticing a pattern… an absolute overuse–and abuse, really–of the letter C. We had Claire, Connie, Carlson, Cassidy, Carson, Carlisle, and probably several other names that began with the letter. I wish I could tell you why C became such a prominent player, but I can’t–I don’t know. Wierd things happen sometimes. So, after we made the discovery of the letter Cs undeniable overuse, Brytt’s last name–Carson–was changed to Tanner. Tanner, because at the time, I worked for a company with the word “Tanner” in the title. I’d been at the company for thirteen years, and figured it deserved some kind of recognition for paying my bills all that time. Unfortunately, Brytt probably isn’t really the most complimentary thing to be associated with, but for what’s it’s worth, I like him. He amused the hell out of me… and hey, it’s the thought that counts…


I can’t remember if Brytt’s addiction to cocaine was a surprise or part of the plan, but this was the most fun, and most challenging thing about him. His constant “pit stops” kind of became his calling card, his personal catch-phrase in a sense, and it was interesting to describe the physical symptoms, like his glassy eyes and powder-congealed nostrils–and it was a total blast describing the actual snorting of the cocaine. I know… I’m kinda twisted that way, but it was fun. The snorting of coke is not glamorous. I wanted that to be very clear when Brytt did his thing, and it turned out being more hilarious than anything.


Brytt is, believe it or not, one of my favorites. He was fun because he didn’t allow Sterling to take himself so seriously. Well, maybe Sterling took himself seriously, but Brytt made it impossible for me to take him–and the rest of the story–as seriously. Brytt is one of the reasons Beautiful Monster was so much fun for me. He moved the story along like a good character, he played by the rules by not demanding more stage time than his part required, and he forced me to learn more about the darker, sleazier side of life. I absolutely love him, and I have no doubt he will reincarnate, in some form or another, in my future writes.


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One of the greatest temptations in writing is to introduce and expound on things which, although they may excite the writer, don’t necessarily serve the story. Maybe you have a fetish for leather hooker-boots (guilty as charged) and will do anything to force one or more of your characters to wear the thigh-high monstrosities, going on and on in over-excited detail about the design, texture, clickety-clack sounds, and heel-to-toe ratio of the footwear which you’ve so proudly outfitted for your character. This kind of senseless detail is commonly referred to as “Artistic Indulgence, or “Artist’s Indulgence.”

There are endless ways in which artists and writers indulge themselves at the expense of their audience. Maybe you’ve created a character based on your aunt Susan, and although this character isn’t a main player, you feel obligated to give her as many scenes as possible for the purpose of paying homage to your dear, sweet, favorite aunt. This is also a kind of Artistic Indulgence, or maybe more accurately, “Author’s Nepotism.” Whatever you choose to call it, these practices can be fatal to the overall effect of an otherwise good story.

Artistic indulgence of whatever kind is the antithesis of artistic unity. Artistic unity is the practice which holds that there must be nothing in the story that is irrelevant to the plot; that there be nothing mentioned that does not contribute to the meaning, texture, or final result of the story. Artistic unity is the weaving and ultimate uniting of all the puzzle pieces, and every good plot has plenty of it. In short, if you’re going to draw attention to a thing, make sure it pays off, otherwise readers will feel like Alice chasing the White Rabbit down a hole, only to find nothing at the end.

As I have submerged myself deeper and deeper into the education of writing, it’s become impossible for me not to notice both the strengths and weaknesses I see in my own writing, but also in the other books I read and the movies I watch. The most recent storyline which has fallen under my cruel, hawk-eyed radar is Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. While I am a fan of the movies and certainly in no position to condemn them, watching it from this new perspective, I couldn’t help noticing some things about the plot that stumped me.

For starters, the movie begins with Kate Capshaw’s character, Willie Scott. For the first several minutes of the movie, we listen to Willie cast out a dull musical number and watch the synchronized dance steps of her and her back-up dancers. Not a big deal really, unless you note that Willie’s performance possesses neither the glamorous musical edge nor the buoyant sexual suggestiveness to appeal to the movies target market audience.

After another several minutes of Kate Capshaw, Harrison Ford, aka Indiana Jones (after whom the movies were titled), shows up and stares at Ms. Capshaw, making her the center of the audience’s attention one more time, in case they missed how hot she was the first time. As the movie plugs along, we walk through Willie’s fears of spiders, get in touch with her femininity as she lords her powers of seduction over Indie, and witness her intellect as she lifts a magic diamond or something. Then we endure another ninety minutes of her face screaming into the camera as her character becomes more and more of a well-rounded player, gaining dimension and strength as she grows and changes with the various adversities she faces. Oh, and in the meanwhile, Indiana Jones is somewhere trying to save humanity or something.

When I was little and the movie was semi-new, I only knew that I didn’t really like it. But now, I was seeing things that made it perfectly clear why it wasn’t working for me. Stunned that a well-respected and professional director like Steven Spielberg would overlook such obvious plot flaws, I turned to Google and learned that not only was Mr. Spielberg enamored with Ms. Capshaw during the filming of this movie, but that the two went on to be married, and I believe, still are. And this… is artistic indulgence at work.

I don’t bring this up to critique the work of any of the actors, actresses or directors of this movie. I am not a movie critic and there are many people who love Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and that is fine. But as I watched it, I kept getting the feeling that there was a better storyline inside there somewhere trying to get out. And this happens all the time… all due to the lack of artistic unity.

Artistic indulgence is something I suppose you can get away with when you’re an established powers-that-be, but for me, as a beginning writer, it is a luxury I can not afford. If I ever want anything real to become of my writing, I have to tell very tightly knitted, powerful stories. I can not create and foster anything just because it tickles my fancy. I can only have one destination: purpose.

In closing, it is my greatest hope that one day, this will not be the case, and for the record, if and when that day ever comes, the first thing I’m going to do is throw a random, screaming hot chick into my story. In hooker boots.

But until then… artistic unity is my greatest ally.

P.S. ~ The beast has been unleashed.

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