A Short Philosophy on Characterization

A Short Philosophy on Characterization

It’s important to me to create characters that are both compelling and realistic, and I absolutely believe that
each of these qualities play off the other. My characters must be people with whom we can identify, or who seem somehow familiar.

An ideal hero or heroine should have weaknesses to temper their strengths, and an ideal nemesis should have qualities other than pure evil to make them believable. Good and evil are not starkly black and white, but have many shades in between – and it can surprise us when those different levels are played out within a story where different situations, personalities and circumstances are thrown together. Just as in real life!

That’s what I find so exciting about writing a story. No matter how focused you are, no matter how solid the
bones of it are already in your mind when creating the thing, there’s a point when your characters come to life and take over. They tell you what will happen next, insisting in their own voices that either “yes, what you’re writing down there is right on target,” or “nope, that’s just not what I’d say at all.” Maybe that sounds a little out there – hearing voices in your head – but consider that if the writer can’t hear them, neither will the readers. When you begin to hear your characters, listen to them!

I try to be responsible when I write. Although there must be negative tension – and yes, there must be or the story is likely to be bland and totally unbelievable – I do not like leaving a reader mired in it. I want to help them pick themselves up and dust themselves off afterward and think, “There’s hope in this world after all.” What does this have to do with characterization? Your characters help to carry along with them an underlying theme–or themes– to the story; so effective are these “threads” that they can weave themselves into the story with actions and visuals instead of words, driving home your point without mentioning it at all.

A person can be a character. So can a dog, a jellyfish, a car, or the sky. What’s important is that you take (his, her, or its) aspects and make them multifaceted. Embellish one or two things about it, giving it something all its own–a bad habit, an obsession, a physical weakness or strength, an oblique philosophy–something to set it apart from everything and everyone else in the story. This will help to make the character real and memorable, and I guarantee it will also add another dimension to your story–maybe one even you didn’t see coming!

Leann Marshall is the author of The Starfish People, a time travel adventure novel available for order on online bookstores and your favorite neighborhood bookstore. She has also written a slipstream novel that will be available Fall of 2009.
Website: http://www.leannmarshall.com

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