Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Character Stew

Let's talk characters. I have 3 blog entries in mind (this is the first) that will deal with characterization.

First, creating them:

Creating a character is a bit like making a stew. It doesn't happen all at once, in an instant, BAM! No, it happens in stages, as the author puts on the apron, hums a tune, and then begins - sprinkling in bits of description, dialogue, relationships to other characters, inner turmoil, background details, decisions, etc. Then, the stew simmers and is brought to a boil.

Think about creating characters the way you get to know a person in real life. The first time you meet someone, you make an initial assessment - how he/she looks, talks, carries himself/herself. Then, you communicate - and you learn even more about who that person is from the accent, mannerisms, hesitations, word choices. And, over time, you find out the likes/dislikes, the personal history, education, career, religious beliefs, etc. It takes time to "know" and develop a character, much like it takes time to know a real-life person.

Mainly, don't feel like you have to give the character away on the very first page. Just like real people do, let your characters have a few secrets, to be revealed at a later time. Then, bit by bit, action by action, page by page, let the readers decide for themselves who this character is. "Show, don't tell" is especially important here. Be careful not to use too much exposition (background information) to tell directly "about" the character. Instead, show the character to the readers and let them develop their own "relationship" with the characters, without your "telling" them what that relationship is. Easier said than done, of course. It's a tedious process, characterization. It takes hard work, diligence, sensitivity, and practice.

Another tip is to READ. See how other authors do it. How do they craft their characters? The best thing to do is to re-visit a book you've already read - one in which the characters were so richly drawn that they felt absolutely real, and that when the book was over, you felt sad to leave them. Go back to those books - but this time, go back as a writer instead of a reader. Observe exactly how the author made you care so much in the first place. See whether, in tasting their character "stew," you can identify the individual ingredients that made the stew so rich and hearty.

1 comment:

  1. I love this comparison you used. 'Character stew'.....each 'ingredient' adds to the personality...bit by bit....with 'seasonings' added for extra flavor. You can actually pull apart a good book by re-reading it (as you said)
    and totally concentrating on the development of
    characters.....what a great lesson for aspiring authors!