Is it a bad thing if there's no character development whatsoever within the first half of a novel? In my novel, there's this character who's just living alone and doesn't really interact with anyone or any animal whatsoever, and then later after the first half there's some character development as he finally interacts meaningfully (dialogues) with other characters, is that ok, and can we make it work, or is this a terrible idea and why?
It is generally considered important for a novel to have character development, as it helps to engage the reader and make the characters more relatable and believable. However, it is also possible to have a well-written novel without significant character development in the first half. It really depends on the specific goals and focus of the novel.
If the first half of the novel is primarily focused on setting the stage and establishing the plot, then it may be acceptable for there to be less character development at that point. However, if the novel is primarily character-driven, then it may be more important for the characters to be developed and for the reader to get to know them early on.
Ultimately, whether or not the lack of character development in the first half of a novel is a problem will depend on the overall structure and goals of the story. It's important to consider how the lack of character development may affect the reader's engagement with the story and their ability to connect with the characters.
What does happen in the first half of the novel?
How your character reacts to that will, in fact, develop his character. If he evades people, if he plans his day to avoid where people, if he simply ignores them until they stop pestering him, all of these develop his character. If something breaks, does he fix it, work out how to get along without it, go into town and steal or buy a replacement, leave a note on a bulletin board that he will pay three baskets of berries for a replacement?
Your question, as posed, seem to be based on the assumption that only interpersonal relations develop character. Anything that shows what sort of person your character is is character development.
If there is nothing like this, what does happen in the opening chapters to get the story rolling and keep the readers reading?
Character development is a bit of an on/off switch, either you have it and then it permeates the novel from the first scene the character appears to the last, or you don't have it and then you use other means to make the character interesting.
Stories can be described as two parallel conflicts, one external (the outer story and plot) and one internal (character development). In the best of stories, the external and internal should be so intimately connected that they should feel like two sides of the same coin.
Having character development, at least of the main character, in only half the story risks making it lopsided.
If you "kind of" have character development, the risk is the readers will expect development and get disappointed.
If, for instance, you introduce your character with a problem and a fatal flaw that makes them feel in need of change but then you don't give them any more development, that will likely upset the reader's sense of story. The same will probably be true if they come across character development in the later half of the story without any setup in the beginning. It risks feeling like "half a bridge" going into nowhere suddenly appearing above their heads.
I'd suggest one of two things: Either remove the development in the latter half of the novel and write a non-arching character (see McCollum) or give them a full arc by going back and editing the first half.
Since your character suddenly started developing, I'd say your novel and character seem to suggest they should develop and that you've just now come to realize who this character really is, so I'd recommend the latter. Go back (now, or when you've finished the first draft) and see if you can edit in a full change arc for the character.
- How to Write Character Arcs (Also available as a book.)
- "Character Arcs: Founding, forming and finishing your character's internal journey", Jordan McCollum