Tuesday, 3 April 2012

C is for...

Characterisation. We’ve all heard about the importance of character in our fiction. We all know it’s important to establish it, but how exactly do we do that? Mostly, it’s down to a few core elements:

The initial description- the way you first describe a character is important, because first impressions matter as much on the page as in the real world. It isn’t just the features you describe, but the tone you choose for it.

Their actions throughout- readers don’t know that an action is out of character unless you go to a lot of trouble to show that, so they tend to take every action as contributing to an overall picture of the character. Actions are more important than words here, because if you describe a character as nice and then have him/her killing people, no one’s convinced.

Small actions/quirks- don’t overdo these. Bad fiction is full of trombone playing, unicycling bosses (all right, maybe not), but part of fiction is always about picking the right details to focus on.

Symbols- small things can be symbolic. Items they consistently carry or use can come to represent them, serving as a kind of shorthand for them.

Dialogue- People go on about characters having a unique voice, and maybe that’s true as far as it go. Quirks of dialogue can help to identify them, and possibly should, but I find that it’s a lot less pronounced than people think. Often, it’s you. It’s all you, and attempting to get a totally distinct voice can just come across as someone putting on a silly accent.

Above all, try to have a clear idea of the essence of your characters. For me, it’s not about page after page of detail. It’s about knowing who, at their heart, they are. The rest flows from that.

7 comments:

A Daft Scots Lass said...

and so the A to Z Challenge begins.

Love your style.

Dawn Embers said...

A good topic for today. I have a friend who asked me how I get my characters developed the way they are and I really couldn't answer him. He has to build up his characters for the story idea he has, but I tend to start with characters. Well done with the post.

Joshua said...

Excellent points to keep in mind, Stu. Thanks for the summary.

Eric W. Trant said...

I tend to over-do the dialogue quirks. I have to watch it. I have all sorts of -isms for my characters, during their speech. Like you said, it can come off as a phoney accent, especially if you are trying to imitate an unfamiliar accent.

So I try to be subtle. They say about the drummer in classical music (I am/was a drummer) -- the drums should be felt, not heard.

Same with characterizations. They should not be so obvious, and they certainly should not be irritating!

e.g. Stuttering, or like Thomas Harris did in Lambs, he misspelled the guy's name from James to (*$ and I can't even type it. He dropped the trailing s in James, which totally kicks off my OCD!


- Eric

Wendy Tyler Ryan said...

Good post. Mine was on a similar theme. Great minds think alike!

fidel said...

Points to consider in B and C especially since I am currently taking a creative writing course. Thanks for that.

stu said...

Eric, subtle? You're a drummer. (Sorry, but I'm a guitarist, and it seemed like the only appropriate reaction).