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Joel Arnold

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Member Since: May, 2010

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Blogs by Joel Arnold

Searching for Truth - Characterization
12/16/2010 9:06:37 AM    [ Flag as Inappropriate ]

What makes interesting characters in fiction? What makes you fall in love with a character so much that you're bummed when the novel ends - so it feels like you're losing a good friend or a delightfully memorable adversary? Is it their quirks? Is it the qualities we find recognizable in ourselves? Is it the way they face obstacles?

When I first started taking writing seriously, plot was king for me. I didn't put much thought into characterization, other than maybe adding a certain tic here or there as an afterthought. As I've learned more and read more and talked to more people, I've learned - a bit slowly, perhaps - how important character is. I've been trying to put my finger on what makes good, memorable, and interesting characters.

In real life, I've found that those folks who seem to be most interesting - or those that I feel would make interesting characters in a novel or story - are those who've figured out their own truth. They know who they are.

But most novels are basically about someone on the cusp of change - it's the whole caterpillar turning into a butterfly process. The caterpillar is the naivete, the cocoon is that struggle toward truth against outside forces, and the butterfly is the discovery of who one really is. This is encapsulated perfectly by Harry Potter, for example, or Frodo from Lord of the Rings. Their struggle shapes them and soon they, in turn, shape the struggle.

So the already established 'character' - that person who already knows their truth, who is already comfortable in their own skin - would make a better secondary character, or a sidekick, or an antagonist.

The process of the character discovering his/her truth - that is usually what we want to save for the protagonist, and perhaps a few other characters as well. Hannibal Lecter, for example, knows who he is. He's mastered his truth, already come to grips with it by the time we meet him, while Clarice Starling is in the process of discovering who she is. Dumbledore and Voldemort and Hagrid all know who they are, they've already become, but Harry, Hermione and Ron are all in the process of becoming.

Of course, there can be back-story (if it's integral to the plot) where we find out how a character already established in their truth became that way. This can be interesting, too, if handled well. It can be learned in little bits here and there as the story progresses, or in a flashback - however flashbacks should be handled carefully so that they don't yank your reader out of the story's flow.

Anyway, those are my thoughts on characterization for the day. What about you? How do you handle characterization? What makes a memorable character for you?

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More Blogs by Joel Arnold
• The Sucking Suckathon of Suckiness - Monday, May 21, 2012
• Mississippi Pearls and a Car Biding Its Time on the Ice 'til Spring - Thursday, December 29, 2011
• One Decade, One Story - or how One Thing Leads to Another - Wednesday, December 28, 2011
• Racing Minnesota-style! - Wednesday, December 28, 2011
• This Here Minnesota Horror Author was a Big Old Scaredy-Cat - Thursday, December 22, 2011
• Jack the Blob Killer - Monday, December 19, 2011
• Death Rhythm - Tuesday, September 20, 2011
• More Writing What You Know - Monday, September 19, 2011
• How I Interpret 'Write What You Know' - Wednesday, August 03, 2011
• Blessings - or - What I write after having one too many... - Wednesday, August 03, 2011
• 120 Miles in a Canoe - Monday, June 27, 2011
• On Stephen King - Thursday, June 23, 2011
• Why Horror? - Wednesday, June 22, 2011
• Zen & the Art of Swearing - Friday, June 10, 2011
• If Coffee Shops were Run by Airlines - Thursday, May 12, 2011
• Trying to Figure Out What Scares Me - Monday, March 21, 2011
• My Confession - Tuesday, March 08, 2011
• Going Indie with my novel Northwoods Deep - Friday, March 04, 2011
• How I Envision Conflict When Writing - Thursday, March 03, 2011
• Wall Drug - why it's one of my favorite places - Wednesday, February 02, 2011
• Jonesing for a Road Trip - Wednesday, February 02, 2011
• Snowmapocalyptopalooza - Tuesday, February 01, 2011
• How Do You Remember? - Thursday, January 20, 2011
• When your parents are librarians... - Tuesday, January 18, 2011
• The genesis of a novel - the first 6 days - Tuesday, January 04, 2011
•  Searching for Truth - Characterization - Thursday, December 16, 2010  
• Control - and a little more about Northwoods Deep - Monday, December 13, 2010
• Bukowski - Wednesday, December 08, 2010
• Flies, Flies, Spam, and Flies - Friday, December 03, 2010
• Naivete and the Young Writer - Thursday, December 02, 2010
• For Writers looking for some Adventure - Wednesday, December 01, 2010
• My usual rider for family/friend appearances - Tuesday, November 23, 2010
• Writing and Me - a dramatization - Wednesday, November 17, 2010
• Writing Tip o' the Day (now with vitamin C!) - Tuesday, November 16, 2010
• The Power of Music - Tuesday, November 16, 2010
• To All the Bookstores I've Loved Before - Monday, November 15, 2010
• The Care and Feeding of Writers - Sunday, November 14, 2010
• Rudiments - Thursday, November 11, 2010
• Writing Tip o' the Day - Wednesday, November 10, 2010
• Tragedy - now with 50% more pathos! - Tuesday, November 09, 2010
• Perspective - Monday, November 08, 2010
• The Daunting Dauntiness of Tweeting on Twitter - Saturday, November 06, 2010

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