Mar 19, 2014

Wildcard Wednesday
Characterize This!

Previous articles in this series: Finding Ideas; Finding Time; Pantser Vs. Plotter

So . . . you have an idea, you've carved out the time to write, and you've figured out whether you're a pantser or a plotter. The next step in our Wildcard series about writing is character.

No matter how good your story idea might be, you’re not going to get very far without a character, preferably a strong one (maybe more), to implement it. What’s interesting in a story is only interesting because we care about the characters and what happens to them. We want to follow their lives as events unfold.

I try to build a full personality for each of our cartoon characters - to make them personalities.
~ Walt Disney

A flat, or two-dimensional character is defined by a single quality without much individualizing detail. A round character is a complex individual that is not easily defined. It is the flat character whom you must avoid at all costs.

When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature.
~ Ernest Hemingway

Characters’ lives, just like our own, are multi-facetted with a wealth of detail. You, as the writer, must select the details that reveal the greatest possible information about the character, and details that have the greatest possible connection between the characters’ lives and the readers’.

Every human being has hundreds of separate people living under his skin. The talent of a writer is his ability to give them their separate names, identities, personalities and have them relate to other characters living with him.
~ Mel Brooks

It is the connection the reader feels with the characters in your story that is going to keep them reading. They need to know what happens next. They need to care about what happens to your characters.

If you will practice being fictional for a while, you will understand that fictional characters are sometimes more real than people with bodies and heartbeats.
~ Richard Bach

Place your character on a path with something at stake, with something to do, to achieve, to learn and to change. Put obstacles in his path to make the journey interesting. These obstacles could be physical or they might be psychological. He not only needs a goal, he needs something that might prevent him from attaining that goal.

I have found it easier to identify with the characters who verge upon hysteria, who were frightened of life, who were desperate to reach out to another person. But these seemingly fragile people are the strong people really.
~ Tennessee Williams

Readers love a vulnerable hero who must overcome his own weaknesses and temptations; one who comes to realize that they’re sorry, they’re penitent, they’re full of remorse, at least in the context of the story at hand. This is something the reader can empathize with. We’re all human, we’ve all been there.

I start drawing, and eventually the characters involve themselves in a situation. Then in the end, I go back and try to cut out most of the preachments.
~ Theodor Geisel

Your goal as a writer is to create a character that manipulates the reader's empathy to the point where the reader forgets the character is fictional. Once you reach this stage, don't be surprised if the character appears to take on a life of his own. By all means, give your characters all the freedom they need to be believable, but don't let them take over to the point where they compromise the story line. A good tale is a balance between story and character.

The more gifted and talkative one's characters are, the greater the chances of their resembling the author in tone or tint of mind.
~ Vladimir Nabokov

For more insights into creating characters, try one of the following links:
Characterization series, from StoryFix
Creating Fictional Characters, from Novel-Writing-Help
Characterization 101 - How to Create Memorable Characters
Creating an Original Character, from the Fantasy Art Resource Project

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