Characters vs. Characterization: Peopling Your Novel
Now that you've researched the
ideal setting for your book and plotted out the framework for
a killer story, you've got to people it with memorable, flesh-and-bone
characters. In my opinion, this is where you should spend the
bulk of your creative energy, because without strong characters,
even the most elaborately set and intricately imagined plot will
fail to grab a reader.
In his book, STORY: SUBSTANCE,
STRUCTURE, STYLE, AND THE PRINCIPLES OF SCREENWRITING, Hollywood
script consultant, Robert McKee, says that writers often confuse
Characterization with Character. They are, as I've come to agree,
two very different things.
Characterization is the sum total
of the *observable* qualities of a human being. For example,
let's say you spent hours on a detailed character sheet (FWIW,
I don't use them). You've established that your hero has black
hair and green eyes, a proud aquiline nose and stern jaw, straight
white teeth and a cocky smile. That's all good--we're getting
a visual picture of him on the page. Now dig a little deeper.
You've decided that he is a nobleman--better yet, a nobleman
who's been denied his birthright, which gives him a bit of an
attitude (you can see it in his arrogant stride and hear it in
his dry wit). More good stuff--he's starting to take shape.
Let's flesh him out some more.
Our handsome, embittered nobleman, who was denied his title for
reasons we've yet to define, has since gone on to make his own
wealth. He's been ruthless in his pursuit of money and status,
and as our story opens, he is the owner of a lucrative shipping
business. He's aloof. A loner. Feared and scorned by men, and
secretly desired by even the most proper ladies. Sounds like
quite a character, right?
Actually, we don't know anything
about his character. All we have done so far is define his characterization.
The tools we have for defining characterization include: appearance,
speech, mannerism, attitude, background, point of view, etc.
To define his character--who he is in his heart of hearts, at
the core of his humanity--we have to put him in a pressure situation
and force him to act. The choices he makes, the actions he takes,
are what define his character.
In fiction, we need to take that
concept a step further. We need to define character, then use
our story to illustrate change (or growth) in character. To do
that, we need to establish what is elementally important to our
characters--their deepest dreams and desires, their most secret
goals--then think of ways to strip them bare and make them PROVE
THROUGH ACTION that they are worthy of having those rewards.
my next topic of the day . . . .
p.s. One of my favorite reference
books for characterization is THE COMPLETE WRITER'S GUIDE
TO HEROES & HEROINES by Tami D. Cowden, Caro LaFever,
and Sue Viders. This book illuminates and explains 16 master
archetypes for character building, giving examples of traits
and personalities for each archetype, including their potential
flaws and virtues, then takes it to the next level to show how
the various hero and heroine archetypes would interact together
and conflict. Just browsing this book inspires all sorts of new
characters and potential storylines. If you don't have it, do
yourself a favor and get it! It's a wonderful resource! (See
the Reference Desk section of my Writers
Tips & Articles page for a link to order.)