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DAVID CORBETT | The Elusive Stuff of Character
Uncategorized / March 18, 2010

Despite having written four novels and numerous stories, and teaching fiction at UCLA Extension, Book Passage and elsewhere, the whole notion of what makes a character compelling, or how to construct such a character, continues to feel like mercury in my palm. Just when that inscrutable line is crossed, between a fully realized character and one not so fully realized, remains as enigmatic to me now as ever–perhaps more so. Recently, I told a writer friend that I’ve come to use music more and more in my characterizations, sometimes thinking of characters as chords, or melodies, or allowing the timbre of a particular instrument to inspire an insight into their inner life. If a chord inspires a character, it can be quite simple, a dyad or triad: straightforward, clear, with a distinct tonal character: A vigorous, optimistic soul for example (G major), or a fragile worrier (C sharp minor). Or the chord and character can assume more complexity as I probe quirks, secrets, miseries, joys, regrets, contradictions. The result here is more complicated, tonal clusters of stacked thirds, jarring minor seconds, sprawling ninths and elevenths, diminished sixths, augmented fourths. These too have a distinct tonal sense but it’s not easily…