The Secrets of Character Development

Donna Tartt (the author) only gives you little pieces of a character, she takes her time to reveal them slowly. This technique gives the reader a better connection with the characters, but she also mimics characters in real life. People are very complex and Donna only scratches the surface of the character by not giving us the character as a whole.We follow the story by way of the protagonist Richard Papen and discover the characters along with him. This not only makes you more curious to read the story, but helps your understanding of the book. So that you are better able to understand the characters motivation behind their actions.

Donna Tartt wrote this text with the fact that Richard Papen would eventually be assimilated into the group of scholars that are studying Greece. Once he is finally apart of this group, he wonders if he is truly “in” the group. “That is to say: I wanted to maintain the illusion that their dealing with me were straightforward; that we were all friends, no secrets, though the plain fact of it was that there were plenty of things they didn’t let me in on and would not for sometime.” This mimics and models human behavior because people are tentatively careful and  cautious. It also speaks of how secretive we are. People in ways are excluded from some things, if that purpose might be for lack of trust or for protection. But to ¨maintain the illusion¨ shows that everyone puts up an allusion even a mask, waiting for someone right to finally take it down, someone they can trust.   

In the book Richard asks about the group that is studying Greece’s culture and language. The teacher only picked five students to teach every year, Richard arrived too late, and wasn’t able to be in the class. But to be around the idea of the Greece or its study enticed him. “I suddenly wanted to know what they were saying. I went to the bookshelf behind their table ...My back to them, I picked up a book at random- a ridiculous sociological text, as it happened- and pretended to study the index.” This reveals the type of character Richard Papen is. Slowly you get to see different aspects of his character, him being cautious and curious. He takes time out of his day to to listen to them, to learn who they are. Mainly for the fact that he yearns for something more, something that he doesn’t have. To be apart of their group.

As Richard slowly adjusted to college life, he realized he didn’t see the Greek scholars in any of his classes. But when he did happen to see them, he watched them with interest. “All of them, to me, seemed highly unapproachable. But I watched them with interest whenever I happened to see them: Francis, stooping to talk to a cat on a doorstep; Henry dashing past year the wheel of a little white car, which Julian in the passenger’s seat; Bunny leaning out of a an upstairs window to yell something at the twins on the lawn below. Slowly more information came my way.” Ricard noticed certain things about people which builds the characters of the people. What they did and what their habits are. This relates to natural human emotions because Donna Tartt gives them typical human qualities and emotion, but gives a brief blurb of who they are so almost anyone can connect to them. Richard Papen states that the they seem “highly unapproachable”, typically in general are unapproachable. Because it’s easy to form an opinion of someone without actually getting to know them.

According to a book review from Carlos Mock on a Barnes and Noble, his opinion of The Secret History “... is overwhelmed by character development. Donna Tartt is able to get inside these peoples heads to a point where we feel we are there with them. We know what they do, what they think, why they drink; what they like and dislike about each one of them,and how they interact as a group, which will explain why they did what they did.” This identifies and outlines the very bases to everybody. Donna Tartt connects us to the character by doing the simplest things, because we  can relate to them the most. She builds the characters from the ground up.


If the book was written with a different type of character development, I feel as though the story would be less enticing. The complexity of the characters is what draws you into the text. I would’ve struggled to finish reading this book if it wasn't for the character development. Donna Tartt style of writing pulls you in mainly because you can connect to those complex people, she make the characters life like. Gradually meeting and getting to know each character. It was like meeting a person in real life, for the first time. You can have a magnificent story line, but the characters that make a text, a story.

Comments (1)

Haisha Hahsy (Student 2017)
Haisha Hahsy

1) I learned that showing characters to people more slowly will enhance the book, story, etc. Because yes, it is true "people are very complex" and they should have more time given to them to be shown to who they really are instead of making a character like any other (kinda like a Barbie); while I should take my time to tell how a character really is making it more realistic and easier to connect to.
2)I want to steal: I way of showing characters in a more better and slower way so people can enjoy unique characters that they can relate to at points.