CHARACTERIZATION AND THE CREATIVE WRITING MUSE
Creating Believable Make-Believe Characters!
By Stu Leventhal (your creative writing mentor)
What is important to tell about each of your characters? How much of their inner selves should an author reveal? How do you know when you have said enough about a character that your writer will get it? And when is it time to get on with the telling of the story? These are the decisions that all creative writers must decide throughout the writing of their tales. In the beginning of a creative writing piece, authors have a tendency to want to speak to their reader longer than usual instead of taking a back seat and allowing the story to reveal the important stuff. This is because the author is aware that the reader knows nothing about the people and places being written about.
Writers tend to think they must hold their reader’s hand every step of the way and especially in the beginning of telling a story. It is natural to feel like you have to establish a solid starting point in order to begin a journey. But that is not so. The reader does not need to know where everyone is coming from to appreciate that they are headed somewhere new. It is more important to start right in the thick of things, in the heat of the moment. That gives your tale energy, excitement and a reason for being told. If today is the same as countless of other days then why start your tale today! You can fill in the blanks during later scenes and answer your reader’s questions through the dialog between characters, flash backs and other literary techniques.
The most important aspect of characterization is not establishing the physical traits for your characters or even their mental states. The important thing is for you to portray their personalities correctly! If they are big or small framed, pretty, handsome or rugged looking, book smart or down to earth all does go into the reader’s perception of them but the way they carry themselves and how they act and react is the essence of who they really are. Stories are about characters and how life’s experiences affect them. Therefore, you as author need to say who your characters are right now if you plan to say or show how they are specifically being changed by the incidences of your story.
I normally am against most narrative descriptions or the author outright telling and explaining things but there is a time and place in creative writing for author narrative. Usually it can be used effectively in small doses to speed up the flow of a story that is lagging behind or sluggish. There are many better choices of revealing a story character’s personality than just outright stating it. Yes, it is always best to use action and dialog to show how someone acts rather than just telling your reader how they usually act or have been known to act in the past.
Facial expressions, body language, yawns, furtive glances, nervous stuttering hesitation or ticks, excessive sweating are all good tells for revealing how a character is thinking. Allowing your reader to eavesdrop on other characters discussing another character when he or she is not present is also a great opportunity to introduce info about a character.
Your characters should be well rounded if knowing about them is important for the reader to get the jest of the story. Every character in your story cannot be a main character! Tell only what needs to be told, never slow or stall the flow of the story to say something that the reader does not need.
There are things that are special about each and every one of us. These traits are what everyone who meets us notices. They define who we are and how others relate to us. That is what should be told to your readers about each character in the story. You as author may choose to offer up a trait that seems unnecessary at the time but later it becomes important because it relates to the overall theme of the piece or helps the plot make more sense. The key is to always introduce new info about someone or something into the story naturally as you weave it. Never force something on a reader if it seems out of place to do so. How unobtrusively you can slip vital info into your story is the sign of how skilled you are as a writer. Master this art and you will open up unlimited opportunities for where your stories can go.