Blogs by Joel Arnold
Searching for Truth - Characterization
12/16/2010 9:06:37 AM
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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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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
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