Bringing Realism to Your Novel
I was recently doing an interview with my friend for a school project of his. He thought it’d be cool to interview the author who was only nineteen and who was home-schooled for most of his life. I didn’t think much to it, willing to help my friend for his college project. In that interview he asked me a lot of basic questions, “What inspired you to write?” “Were there any challenges to writing your first book?” all that stuff. But there was one question that really made me think, one that made me go…“Huh, that’s really true!”
It started from him asking, “Is there anything you wish you could have expanded more on in your book?” I answered by saying there was a character I wish I could have played with more. In Dehumanized there’s a character named Frederic Stinson, a Frenchman who barely spoke any English and dies early in the book. I told my friend that I regretted not being able to expand on his character more before he left, not letting the reader know more about this mysterious man who was Ryan’s cellmate in Dehumanized, and my friend’s follow-up question made me really think:
“But don’t you think it brings a certain kind of realism to your book by not expanding on this character?”
I didn’t know how to respond at first. I thought for a second and was ready to say no, but then I really thought about it. After about two minutes of thinking, I came up with the conclusion that, yes, it does bring realism to my book to not explain this character more so than necessary. Because the book follows Ryan Zachery and his journey to freedom, and since it’s about him and from his point of view we only know what he knows. He only knew so much about Frederic, so naturally we only knew so much as well. Since there was a language barrier between the two, Frederic couldn’t share his story with Ryan or us, leaving him a very mysterious character. Obviously there are ways I could have told Frederic’s story – as a writer there are many tools at my disposal – but at the time I didn’t feel the need to, and now I’m glad I didn’t. It really does bring a certain kind of realism to the book to not explain every single character Ryan comes into contact with. The same goes for every novel. When you’re following a main character you only know what they know, not what everyone else knows. In real life do you just somehow know the background of everyone you come into contact with? No. You have to learn their stories by having them tell you, and so if they can’t or won’t tell you you’ll never know.
A good book is full of well-developed characters, but there’s room for a character that is mysterious and stays that way. For Dehumanized, Frederic Stinson is that character, and will continue to be throughout the sequel(s?).