Sunday, October 14, 2018

Good Advice on Writing: Characterization

Every human being has hundreds of separate people living under his skin. The talent of a writer is his ability to give them their separate names, identities, personalities and have them relate to other characters living with them.
-Mel Brooks

In the world of genre fiction, the character is most likely the center of the story. Sometimes the story can be about how the world treats a character, or how the character is affected by the world or other characters, but it is still the journey of a made-up being(s). Things like world-building are important, but the reader is ultimately here to read about THE CHARACTER(s). 

I like Mel Brooks' quote above about characters. I think that writers have an innate desire to bring to life characters to tell the stories they most want to tell, and this is a gift. Writers should spend as much time getting to know their characters as they do understanding the plot of the story. Often, writing a gripping character is more important than writing a gripping plot-line.

As readers know, I am not a writer who tends to plot out storylines in any kind of form. I don't sit down and make outlines and character boards. But this doesn't mean I'm not paying attention to my characters. Because characters are the center of my stories, I must know them as well as I know myself. What are their motivations? What drives them? Who are they?

Ray Bradbury said, "Remember: Plot is no more than footprints left behind in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations. Plot is observed after the fact rather than before. It cannot precede action. It is the chart that remains when an action is through."

If writers are like me, they sit down at the computer and pour out their ideas onto the page with little concern for the intricacies of things like characterization, plot, foreshadowing and such. We write from a place of action, where nothing is certain except the place we are going. Often, I find that my characters grow with me on this journey, beginning as a shadow someone and ending as a flesh-and-blood representation of all that we have suffered. This is an exciting, frustrating, and painful birth for us both, but again-- we are headed to incredible destinations!

However, many authors prefer to build their characters like men of clay, molding them all before placing them carefully on the page like chess pieces. In this case, Eloise Jarvis McGraw has the best advice for knowing the character you want to create:

"Start with a character. Choose the person you want. When you've chose him, ask yourself:

1. What does this person want?
2. What prevents him from getting it?
3. What does he do about this obstacle?
4. What are the results of what he does?
5. What showdown does this lead to?
6. Does he get what he wants, finally, or does he not?
7. Now- exactly what have I SAID?

I guarantee this recipe."

Shall we discuss a few of my characters and how they came to life? First, I'd start with Icarus Kane. Readers may know him as the intrepid alchemist and Warden of London from The Alchemist's Kiss. To be fair, Icarus began with a name. It's fantastic, isn't it? Icarus Kane. What kind of man, but an interesting one, could bear a name like that? I pictured in my mind a blonde-haired man with the face of an Adonis and the disposition of a cactus, and I laughed. Yes! But a man such as this would, of course, have a loyal best friend. And so, Archimedes Merriweather was born. Archie is everything that Icarus is not, and yet they compliment each other so perfectly that I knew in my heart this was an epic adventure. Of course, Icarus needed a woman to bring him to heel, as he was headed down a path of darkness that even Archie could not derail. And so the red-haired, stiff-spined Cora Mae Jenkins was born. She was everything that would compliment Icarus, challenge him and nourish the parts of him that were still so raw. When the three were set, it was time to put them in the middle of an uprising, and the threat of a dark mage. I wanted to see exactly how strong they were, you see, and their challenges were many. As I'd hoped, they were everything I imagined and more! What fun!!

Many readers have fallen in love with Jacks Baine from Bound to You. The two stories are worlds, and years apart, but their characters began similarly. Jacks began as a shadow without a name. A man who had experienced something heart-breaking, a man who was tired of being special. A man who was ready to quit. He had lost faith in who he was, and his ability to protect the people he loved. Lia Bernardi was a woman born of structure. I liked the dichotomy of a roughneck man who had something that prim Lia needed, and she was forced to tolerate him so she could get it. Jacks and Lia bloomed, their bond and their personalities growing with every chapter. Some of the characters in Bound to You surprised me! Darva and Kev, for example. The two of them are worlds apart, and yet they forged a strong bond that shocked me. I wasn't anticipating that two of them would escape and find themselves friends, if not more. This was a perfect example of characters running away to do the exact opposite of what the author expected. I was surprised, but it made the story that much richer and more emotional. This is also the only book I've ever written where a dead character has just as many fans as the live ones. Layl was a ghost, an echo that helped Jacks and Lia but somehow he stole the show! Everyone wants to know when they'll see more of Layl... but he's DEAD! Could I give them what they want? Well.... maybe!

I spend hours when I'm not a the keyboard thinking about my characters. Often, I'm asking myself the 7 questions Eloise recommends we ask. Who are they? What do they want, both intrinsically and emotionally? Where have they been and where do they want to go? What drives them to succeed when others would fail? Once I know these things (often played out in my head in dialogue and scenes that never make it into the actual manuscript) I know what my character might do or say in most situations. Every character/story has a theme song, and I rely on the emotions brought up by the song to help mold the character on the page. 

Are you a seasoned writer? How do you create your characters? Any advice for new writers?

Are you a new writer? Did any of this make sense? What other questions about creating relatable, 3-dimensional characters do you have? I'd love to hear from you!

AR DeClerck is a wife, mother and adventure romance novelist. Her stories span genres, galaxies and centuries, but she always brings LOVE to places where darkness dwells. 

You can find her at: 

1 comment:

  1. I'm a plantser. For longer works, I have an idea of who my characters are but get to know them as I write them, so I usually go back once the first draft is done and refine them. I agree completely that characters are what makes the story!



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