Memorable Characters


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Characterization is the concept of creating characters for story. A literary element that is used in dramatic works of fiction.  Characters may be presented by means of description, through their actions, speech, thoughts and interactions with other characters.

Characterization is the way in which an author chooses to convey information about their characters. It can be direct, as when the author tells the reader what his character is like.

Ronald was a cunning lad. Both desperate and greedy, what he lacked in integrity was made up for in boldness. Determined to rise above the class of his parents he set lofty goals that he would reach by any means necessary.  Thievery was his personal expertise.

It can also be conveyed indirectly by showing what the character is like by portraying his or her actions, speech, or thoughts.

Ronald stood on the platform watching the travelers until he spied a gentleman wearing an expensive wool coat, carrying a leather briefcase.  He tugged on his cap and shoved his hands into his pockets following a safe distance behind. He wasn’t going to spend his life working the mines like his father, being ground into nothingness at an early age. He had gone without dinner for the third night in a row and he wasn’t about to make it a fourth. 

He sniffled, pulling the collar of his jacket closer to lessen the effects of the chilly air. He moved casually next to the man, who had taken up conversation with a curvaceous woman with blonde hair.  While the man engaged in conversation with the woman, Ronald stealthily slipped his hand into the man’s pocket and withdrew his leather wallet without him feeling it.  Head down, he moved towards the next car, tucking the pilfered wallet into his own coat.

Indirect Characterization shows things that reveal the personality of a character. There are five different methods of indirect characterization:

Speech What does the character say? How does the character speak?
Thoughts What is revealed through the character’s private thoughts and feelings?
Effect on others toward the character. What is revealed through the character’s effect on other people? How do other characters feel or behave in regards to the character?
Actions What does the character do? How does the character behave?
Looks What does the character look like? How does the character dress? What is their general appearance?

Descriptions of a character’s appearance, behavior, interests, manner of speaking and other unique quirks are all part of characterization. For stories written in the first-person point of view, the narrator’s voice is essential to his or her characterization.

This is a crucial part of creating a compelling story. The characters need to seem real.  Authors convey this by revealing details about their characters that make them appear as a real person, not a fictional creation. It gives readers a strong sense of the character’s personalities, complexities and motivations.  It makes them come alive and become believable.

How do I create great character and avoid the flat Stanley or Mary Sue?

I think everyone knows what these terms mean, but let me clarify.  A flat Stanley is a two-dimensional character that is no more than a cardboard cutout. Readers do not relate to flat Stanley, they are perceived as contrived puppets that the reader hears the author’s voice from behind the curtain.

A Mary Sue is a ‘too good to be for real’ character. They have no flaws, they are able to overcome ridiculous odds, and can do just about everything imaginable. Lara Croft, Harry Potter, Nancy Drew are all examples of a Mary Sue.  You can test to see if your character is a Mary Sue here.

In creating your characters, choose details that make them life-like.  Show the little quirks, the annoying habits.  Does your self-conscious female character twirl her hair, or try smoothing the fabric over her tummy to not show a bit of a tummy bulge?  Does the male MC clear his throat constantly?  Does he comb his fingers through his hair? Think about memorable characters and what they did that made them memorable.

Tell the reader directly and indirectly about your character.  Let them develop; don’t force your author’s views on them. Describe their appearance in some manner even if you want to leave it vague for the reader to fill in a face on their own, they will at least need a framework.  For instance if your character is a skinny computer geek,   you want to give the basic body shape and personality instead of having your reader imagine some shadowy shape of Arnold Schwarzenegger.  You still want the m to be able to fill in some things from their imagination.

Portray your character’s thoughts and motivations.  What makes them tick? Their inner thoughts will convey who they really are. If they are behaving out of character then why?  Use their actions to further show their personality and temperament.  Are they a hot head? Are they easygoing?  Are they talkative or shy and quiet?   Show your other character’s reaction to your protagonist’s words or actions.

Use their dialog to reveal something important about his or her nature. Is the antagonist misunderstood or truly evil?

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What does the character look like?
  • How does the character behave towards others? How do others behave toward the character?
  • What does the character care about?
  • What adjectives does the author use to describe the character’s personality?
  • What does the character think or say?

Weaknesses like vices, imperfections or flaws, make him or her appear more human-like, causing the audience to identify him or her with that specific character. This is a good characterization for a character in most fiction and non-fiction stories.  Indiana Jones was afraid of snakes so of course later on in the story he is going to have to face snakes.

Make the effort to create fully developed characters in your story.  Characters can make or break a story,  and can kill an otherwise great story.  Most readers  would say that characters are the most important aspect of any good story.

 

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