Creating great characteristics is learned through trial and error and experimenting. No writer intentionally writes themselves into a corner, yet it happens all the time, even to the best of us. Call it an occupational hazard. Instead of blaming ‘Writers Block’ now is the time to challenge yourself to write your way back out of the corner. Try a new style or technique and see if you can remove the anchor or break through the road block that is impeding your tale from moving forward. By trying different techniques, we grow. The art of good creative writing takes a lot of effort and thought processes. There’s more to writing a great story than simply coming up with a great story to tell. Having a great story to tell is a good beginning. But, writing it so readers agree it is great is a totally different kettle of fish.
Creating characters who are dynamic, live life large, and are extremely likeable goes a long way with satisfying readers but the rest of your story must deliver just as largely too. Creating characters who intrigue your readers, get them wondering is even better. Creating characters who your readers want to know more about is the key to great characterization. The famous entertainer, Roy Rogers, known for being a very friendly, jovial, fun loving man, used to say. “I never really knew a person I didn’t like.” Now, unless Roy Rogers lived on a different planet than the rest of us; (I personally bump into people all the time I don’t like, at least once a day!) How can Roy’s statement be sincere? Roy Roger isn’t saying he likes everyone. He is saying that if he doesn’t like someone then he hasn’t really gotten to know them yet. And yes, the famous actor was quite sincere when he said it. History books have recorded many instances of how he lived his life by this credo.
Now as creative writers, if we take Roy Rogers words to heart, we can conclude that if the characters we create for our stories are not working for our readers then probably we have not developed the characters enough. We haven’t allowed our readers to really get to know our characters.
Sometimes we have to approach solving a characterization problem by attempting new creative writing techniques and trying new writing styles. The more one writes, the more one’s writing evolves and the more confidence we have to take on more difficult subjects and projects. This means we will naturally encounter tougher literary problems which may be over come by the use of and exploration of more sophisticated literary techniques and unique writing styles. Remember the field of literature is vast, always growing and changing as man himself grows and evolves. Expanding one’s skills of characterization is the essence of expanding one’s over all story telling abilities.
Stories are about people. The most exciting stories are quickly forgotten if the reader was never made to care about what happens to the characters. But, engaging characters themselves are remembered vividly years after their story was read. How many of us can recall the story of Dracula scene by scene? Yet, when we hear the name Dracula, we all picture the blood sucking, aristocrat who sleeps in a coffin by day then comes out to turn into a vampire at night; the monster who hypnotizes his victim, bites their neck then turns into a bat for a quick getaway.
Just as people are complicated, so should your characters be complicated. People wear different hats and play different roles, so should the characters you write about. Knowing your characters thoroughly is important for any author. Deciding how much to reveal to your readers as well as how and when to reveal it, is up to you based on what you are trying to achieve or accomplish with your tale.
There are numerous styles of writing. Each presents its challenges to characterization but each also opens doors to further developing your characters too. For instance, you may choose to tell a whole story, every word, entirely through the inner thoughts of a single character. The benefits of this technique are your reader gets to really know exactly what your character is thinking all the time. In real life and with other styles of writing, people often act one way but really feel differently. We sometimes conceal our true feelings from others, going as far as to say one thing, while thinking the exact opposite. With the above writing style, you always know your character’s true motives, hopes and fears. You know when they are telling the truth and when they lie and you know why. Few other techniques come close to as fully exploring the inner workings of a character’s mind. The down side to using this style is you don’t get to hear anyone else’s opinions not even the author from the point of view of a narrator. And so we see, if our goal is to thoroughly explore what makes a certain type of character tick then we’ve found the perfect style. On the other hand, if we wish to depict the events of an historic incident then we may wish to choose a different writing style that allows us to show our reader more than just one person’s perspective on our subject matter.
As always with creative writing, who is telling the story and how they tell it, can often be as meaningful and insightful as the actual story itself. This is the mark of great characterization, when it works with other elements of literature and storytelling, in this case, the story’s ‘point of view’, to elevate the work to new heights and deliver more substance to the reader’s experience. Great characterization also works with ‘theme’ because the more we readers know about a character the more meaning each episode of the plot can have. And great characterization enhances the plot by justifying how people act and what they say from one scene to the next. Great characterization also makes the conflicts developed between characters believable based on their temperaments and inner make ups which we’ve already been pre-exposed to through characterization. Great characterization also defines the setting, because any place and time is always defined by what people make of it. And thus we see how characterization affects all the elements of a story and how all the elements affect characterization. The best stories utilize all the elements and have them all working together in harmony, which is the real trick to writing a fantastic tale.
Tell us who your favorite literary characters are? And what makes them so endearing, loveable or despicable?
Who do you feel are the best authors at describing fictional characters? What do they do when they write that makes their characters come alive, that is unique?