Understanding Characterization in Creative Writing
by Edward (Dictionary) Itor
Don't sacrifice the story flow to great characterization or for that matter awesome, literary like, setting descriptions either. The tale must always come first, even thought, sometimes we as writers feel like showing off. Try to round out all your characters into real human beings. But, remember in real life humans are secretive private people. How much do you really know about your butcher? If a character is inconsequential, the reader may not need to know that much about him. Don't waste time telling us what we don't need to know. Your hero should have flaws. Your villain should show some redeeming qualities. No one is all bad or all good. But also surprise us. Real life is full of surprises. Your characters will act out of character once in a while, just like your next door neighbor’s actions surprise you from time to time. Let your characters have their mood swings.
Developing a character includes; showing the character's appearance, displaying the character's actions, revealing the character's thoughts and mannerisms. It can be accomplished by letting the character speak, and getting the reactions of other characters. The creation of imaginary persons in drama, narrative poetry, the novel, and the short story is best revealed through actions, speech, thoughts, physical appearance and the other characters’ thoughts or dialog about a character than when the author just tells the reader. An example of author narrative is ‘Bobby was sloppy, lazy and ignorant.’ It comes across much better when the author shows Bobby’s actions, speech or thoughts as well as the thoughts of his fiancé’. ‘Jennifer stared at Bobby, laying sprawled out on his back, across the sofa snorring. His large, size twelve, muddy work boots were untied but still on his feet, which rested on the arm of the tapestry, quilted sofa Jen’s Aunt Tammy had willed to her upon her death. Jennifer listened to her future, husband to be, in a two months, snoring loudly as her eyes took in the still empty pizza box, thrown on the floor along with four or five crunched up empty beer cans.’
Authors convey information about their characters in many imaginative ways. Characterization can be direct, as when an author just comes out and tells his
readers something about a character like; Gary was an ambitious city politician, young, charming and cocky. “Or, Jonny was the fattest man I ever knew.” Characterization can be indirect, as when an author shows what a character is like through the telling of the story. As in; Shirley and everyone else in the neighborhood, corner saloon eyed the well-dressed stranger as he walked up to the bar. Eyes widened as the stocky, medium sized, already balding, thirtyish man pulled a wad of rubber banded cash out of his inside, tweed sports coat pocket. “Next round is on me.” He stated in a dry commanding voice, slapping a few bills down hard on the mahogany bar top for emphasis. The whole bar paused for a second then exploded in cheers. The man turned to catch Shirley’s eye. She quickly looked away, not knowing why she felt so uncomfortable.
Characterization is a crucial part of making a story compelling. In order to interest and move readers, characters need to seem real. Authors achieve this by providing details that make characters individual and particular. Good characterization gives readers a strong sense of the characters' personalities and complexities; it makes characters vivid, alive and believable. An author creates good characterization by choosing details that make real or fictional characters seem life-like and unique.
For stories written in the first-person point of view, the narrator's voice, or way of telling the story, is essential to his or her characterization. Tell the reader directly what a character's personality is like. Describe a character's appearance and manner. Portray a character's thoughts and motivations. Use dialogue to allow a character's words to reveal something important about his or her nature. Use a character's actions to reveal his or her personality. Show others' reactions to the character or person you're portraying. For instance, you can have other characters refer to a character by a nickname that relates to a particular personality trait. “Hurry up Einstein,” Could be a reference to a character’s being dimwitted most of the time. Using Don Juan as a character’s nick name could mean the character is always trying to hit on the pretty ladies or it could be a humorous poke at the fact that the character is terrible, when it comes to his female relationships.
Ask yourself these questions when trying to decide if your characterization is complete enough. Does you reader know; what the main characters look like? How the important character behave towards others? How others behave towards each of them? What do the characters seem to care about? How do the main characters think?
Characterization never stops! Stay aware of how a character is described, how others react to the character, and how those things change throughout the text. Changes in characters are often crucial to the meaning of a story. Usually they depict themes. Characterization is an important element in almost every work of fiction, whether it is a short story, a novel, or anywhere in between.
Basically, the author has two methods of telling the reader about a character to choose from. The writer can either come straight out and ‘tell us’ or he/she can ‘show us’. Making direct statements about a character's personality, tells what the character is like quickly. When the author reveals information by showing us about a character and his personality through that character's thoughts, words, and actions, along with how other characters respond to that character, including what they think and say about him it is much more interesting and engaging to the reader. But, that doesn’t mean ‘showing’ should always be used in preference to “telling”. Direct characterization, ‘telling’ is useful whenever brevity is needed and keeping the story moving forward is important. For example, a writer may want to reveal a minor facet of a character’s personality, without distracting from the action in a scene. It is up to the writer to decide when each characterization method is appropriate.
Characterization, In a nutshell, allows us to empathize with the protagonist and secondary characters and thus feel that what is happening to these people in the story is vicariously happening to us or at least to someone we know and care about. Good characterization affords us the opportunity to see into the characters' hearts and examine their motivations. In the best of stories, it is actually characterization that moves the story along, because a compelling character in a difficult situation creates his or her/own plot. Avoid two creating two-dimensional, cardboard characters and stereotypes. Good stories feature characters who turn the stereotypes upside down; people who defy expectations. Portray your characters as multifaceted, just as your family, friends, neighbors and workmates are and your readers will keep turning the pages wanting to find out what they are going to do next.