Character development is affected by the angle of approach you select. If, for example, you plan to write an article about the meltdown of the power plant at Chernobyl in terms of what it means for the future of the world's atomic power industry, you would have no logical reason to develop the character of Chernobyl's chief construction engineer, chief engineers in other plants, or any other individuals. Your concerns would be more global.
If, instead, you decided to approach the story by writing about the poor construction of the plant, you would be allowed by literary convention to bring in the chief engineer's childhood in Siberia; his problems with certain math courses; his attitude toward the Communist Party; and his drinking problems during the hectic days of Chernobyl's construction. All of this background information would give the reader an understanding of this man who will live under a cloud for the rest of his life as "the person responsible."
The potential to develop a character is also affected by the point of view used. Unless you happen to be intimately connected with Chernobyl's chief engineer or with the construction activities and personnel, or did considerable background research, the first person point of view is not the most likely choice. If you did happen to be assistant chief engineer at Chernobyl, of course, you could write an article from the first person point of view and could readily develop for us the character of the chief engineer. You could say things like "I could tell way back in high school that he would become an important person some day—not so much because of his academic abilities but because of his 'political prowess.' Kids always wanted to do what he said would be fun or the right thing to do. I could see that my friend was a born leader."
If you were not as involved with the person and the situation, the likely choice of point of view would be third person. Then you would decide whether to write the story with an objective or subjective voice. If objective, you would use only reports and other available information. If subjective, you would be allowed by literary convention to include your own thoughts on the matter, personal knowledge about the chief engineer's early background, parts of private conversations you had had with the chief, and other information not generally available.
A subjective angle of approach written in the third person would likely be the best way to write this piece, as you could stress not only the construction activity but the character of the man (or people) involved with it. Third person in the subjective angle approach offers the writer the flexibility to write technologically and psychologically.
A fuller treatment can be found earlier in this book (see page 59), but it's worth highlighting some points here in the context of character development. Since the writer's intention is always to get the reader involved with the character, he or she will include concrete details that will evoke emotions in the reader that trigger memories of other characters who resemble the character being developed. Among the concrete details used by creative nonfiction writers are the details that come from a consideration of the group(s) to which the character belongs. When enough details are used the reader will get an accurate impression of the character. For example, showing us a scene at the noon meeting of the local Kiwanis in which we see that the character is an officer and has been active for years in the good works of the club tells us something about the person's character. I suppose a person could participate in all the charitable activities of a Kiwanis Club and still be a less than desirable citizen, but the chances are slim.
When we learn that the character also works hard for his Congregational Church, acting as Superintendent of Religious Education, we see another dimension of the man. If we read about his dancing only with his wife at the country club's annual dance and about his drinking only Diet Pepsi, we see other dimensions. If, instead, the writer shows him working hard for the Kiwanis and working hard for his church, but in the scene at the country club we see him sloppy drunk and making passes at every unmarried woman while his wife sits out the dances sipping diet cola, we form another impression of the man. We can't make a final judgment from these pieces of evidence, and the writer probably doesn't present his or her own judgment either, but we do have a gradually filling image of the character.
The best technique to reveal these bits of character is to write scene by scene in scenes that show us rather than tell us about a character. Naturally, the writer could summarize (instead of dramatize) and tell us that this character is "the type of guy who attends Kiwanis meetings, teaches Sunday school, and gets smashed at country club dances," but by putting it that way, we have the feeling that the writer has already judged the man and is leading the jury. When we are shown instead of told, we feel more like a jury that's heard the evidence and comes to a decision based on careful thought.
Writers will sometimes give the realities of the character's group life by describing the group's entertainments, clothing, fads, "in" vacation destinations, "in" architectural styles in office and homes, "in" sports, "in" books, and "in" celebrities. If the character is shown fitting perfectly into these group behaviors, we learn one thing; if the character stays away from the activities of the group within which he or she might be expected to be found, we learn something different.
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