To view this notification widget you need to have JavaScript enabled. This notification widget was easily created with NotifySnack.
Home Tour About Read What's New Help Forums Join Login
My Account
Shop
Save
Support
E
Book
Store
Learn
About
Jesus
  




The HOME for Christian writers!
The Home for Christian Writers!

Forums

This area is only a small portion of FaithWriters. The main site can be joined HERE.
Shop & Save to SUPPORT FaithWriters.
Upgrade to SUPPORT FaithWriters.

Be a Better Writer--CHARACTERIZATION

These lessons, by one of our most consistent FaithWriters' Challenge Champions, should not be missed. So we're making a permanent home for them here.

Moderators: mikeedwards, glorybee

User avatar
glorybee
Moderator
Moderator
 
Posts: 6015
Joined: Thu Nov 10, 2005 11:46 pm
Location: Michigan

Be a Better Writer--CHARACTERIZATION

Postby glorybee » Mon Feb 17, 2014 9:54 pm

The characters are probably the most important element of any fiction piece, whether it's micro-fiction like the Writing Challenge or a series of full-length novels. If you fail to create interesting characters who your readers care about, then there is very little reason for them to keep reading. The process of creating these characters is called characterization.

Before I go more into the process of characterization, I want to discuss two kinds of characters: flat characters and rounded characters.

Flat characters are like paper dolls—they are two-dimensional and can be described using only one or two adjectives. Often they are stereotypes: the Best Friend, the Overbearing Mother-in law, the Evil Landlord. They may be in the story to serve a specific purpose in advancing the plot, but they do not change or grow as a result of the events of the story.

Rounded characters are more complex, and cannot be described with just a few adjectives. They have many personality traits, they are both good and bad, they have quirks and habits, they struggle with decisions and they behave in unpredictable ways. The events of the plot of the story change them in some way.

Obviously, rounded characters are more interesting to read (and to write). If you’re writing for the Writing Challenge, it’s difficult to write a fully rounded character; you’ve only got 750 words to squeeze in so much—your plot, your characters, your theme, a whole bag of tricks. But it can be done, and the rest of this lesson will focus on methods of characterization—creating rounded characters. I’ll try to make this general enough for all fiction writers—not just those who write for the Challenge.

Characterization can be achieved in three ways:

1. Through description of the character. This is not to say that you need to open with a paragraph that describes the character from head to toe. But a mention of her greasy hair or his argyle vest will help your reader to draw some conclusions about them. If he continually taps his foot—if she walks briskly—all of these sorts of things begin to take form in your readers’ imaginations.

2. Through the character’s actions. This is a bit more involved than the foot-tapping or brisk walking; it is the actions they perform which become significant events in the story or which allow the reader to peek into the character’s soul. A woman jerks her child away from a person in a wheelchair…a man quickly turns off his computer when his boss enters the room…a teen walks down a row of desks and drops a note on one of them…a child buries a wrapped package in the garden. These actions, and the characters’ emotions as they perform them, further develop fully rounded characters.

3. Through the character’s words and thoughts. Her words may identify her educational or economic status, or her ancestry, or her age, or her personality characteristics (introverted, whimsical, belligerent). For this reason, it’s especially important that you have your character speak in a manner that is authentic. If you’re writing a doctor, make sure that the doctor speaks with the terminology and the informal lingo of a doctor. Make sure that your characters words are true to all of the things that describe her; if she is an elderly, cranky, wealthy, educated socialite, all of her dialogue must ring true to all of those descriptors. If you’re writing a teenager and you haven’t been around teenagers in a while, spend some time listening to how teenagers speak. Inauthentic dialog makes your characters unbelievable.

Your characters’ thoughts will shed even more light on their words and their actions: if she is giving a bottle of water to a homeless person while thinking, just take it, don’t talk to me, I need to get out of here—well, your readers know a good deal about her from just those few words.

I’ve got a story for you to read for your homework, and you can use it to answer some questions about characterization:
Something Like Light

HOMEWORK:

Read the story above, and then answer any of the following questions.

Which character(s) is/are flat characters? What makes them flat?
Which character(s) is/are rounded characters? What makes them rounded?
Give an example of Pearl’s actions that add to her characterization.
Give an example of Pearl’s speech that adds to her characterization.
Give an example of Pearl’s thoughts that add to her characterization.

I didn’t really describe Pearl, other than mentioning her age. Write a sentence that might fit somewhere in this narrative, using something that might describe Pearl and add to her characterization.

Finally, ask any question or make a comment about characterization.
Jan Ackerson

User avatar
debjimo
Pencil Plus (Over 500 Posts)
Pencil Plus (Over 500 Posts)
 
Posts: 1104
Joined: Thu Nov 10, 2005 11:57 pm
Location: Louisiana

Re: Be a Better Writer--CHARACTERIZATION

Postby debjimo » Wed Feb 19, 2014 12:29 am

That was a very helpful article and I enjoyed your story very much too. As for homework, I did some of it, but wasn't sure if you wanted our thoughts posted here. :)
Debbie O'Connor


My Faithwriter's Profile:
FW Profile

User avatar
glorybee
Moderator
Moderator
 
Posts: 6015
Joined: Thu Nov 10, 2005 11:46 pm
Location: Michigan

Re: Be a Better Writer--CHARACTERIZATION

Postby glorybee » Wed Feb 19, 2014 12:39 am

Debbie, that's entirely up to you. If you do post some of your answers here, I'll certainly respond to them, and then other people might be able to benefit from what you had to say. But some people are reluctant to post it publicly, and that's fine, too. (But I'm greatly encouraged when people DO post their homework; I tend to get sad when I think no one is stopping by).
Jan Ackerson

User avatar
RachelM
Pencil Plus (Over 500 Posts)
Pencil Plus (Over 500 Posts)
 
Posts: 518
Joined: Fri Jun 07, 2013 11:52 pm

Re: Be a Better Writer--CHARACTERIZATION

Postby RachelM » Wed Feb 19, 2014 2:39 am

Which character(s) is/are flat characters? What makes them flat?

Jasper Lee is flat because we don't see any struggles that he has, or anything in him that is conflicting. We see him through Pearl's eyes, and to her he was perfect. He also didn't change in any way during the story. (Except to die! :| )

Which character(s) is/are rounded characters? What makes them rounded?

Pearl is very rounded, because we get a strong sense of who she really is through her dialect, way of thinking, and her internal doubts and struggles.

Give an example of Pearl’s actions that add to her characterization.

That she goes down to the creek to tell God that she doesn't believe in him anymore. She makes an event out of it. It shows her passion and the depth of her emotions.

Give an example of Pearl’s speech that adds to her characterization.

This one stumped me a little bit, because the only actual quote that we get from Pearl is when she's calling for her little boy. But really, Pearl is telling us the story in her own voice, so the whole story is her speech.

This is the line that jumped out at me: Jasper Lee set down, still covered in sunshine, and give me a real nice smile, even though he was three years older’n’ me, almost a man.

From this short little quote we can see that Pearl is young, shy, and "countrified". We see her enamoured with a man that seems out of her league for both his beauty and the fact that he is "almost a man."

Give an example of Pearl’s thoughts that add to her characterization.

Oh, Lord! I thought. Would you lookit that? Jasper Lee woulda loved this little boy!

This shows heart-bursting adoration and a young momma missing her man.

I didn’t really describe Pearl, other than mentioning her age. Write a sentence that might fit somewhere in this narrative, using something that might describe Pearl and add to her characterization.

His smile just made me feel like the perrtiest girl around, even though I knowed I was skinny like a lamp pole with big knobby knees.

Finally, ask any question or make a comment about characterization.

Do you work out a backstory for your characters to get to know them, or do they just come to you well-rounded?
My FaithWriters profile: RachelM FW member profile

User avatar
glorybee
Moderator
Moderator
 
Posts: 6015
Joined: Thu Nov 10, 2005 11:46 pm
Location: Michigan

Re: Be a Better Writer--CHARACTERIZATION

Postby glorybee » Wed Feb 19, 2014 12:24 pm

RachelM wrote:Do you work out a backstory for your characters to get to know them, or do they just come to you well-rounded?


Rachel, you did an excellent job of picking out characterization in the story.

The answer to your question depends on the piece of writing. Sometimes, especially in writing for the Challenge, I "rounded" the characters as I wrote them and as they spoke to me.

But I know many, many people who write longer fiction, and they make up entire histories for their characters. I'll see if I can get Theresa Santy to stop by here; she's done something that I think is awesome for the main character of her WIP.
Jan Ackerson

User avatar
RachelM
Pencil Plus (Over 500 Posts)
Pencil Plus (Over 500 Posts)
 
Posts: 518
Joined: Fri Jun 07, 2013 11:52 pm

Re: Be a Better Writer--CHARACTERIZATION

Postby RachelM » Wed Feb 19, 2014 2:45 pm

Thanks for your response, Jan!

That's how I approach my characters too; I save the time consuming histories for my novel writing. I think that when we get to know our characters' fears, deepest longings, and why they do the things they do, we can write them more authentically.

I would absolutely love to hear more from Theresa on this topic!
My FaithWriters profile: RachelM FW member profile

User avatar
WriterFearNot
Pencil 6 (300-499 Posts)
Pencil 6 (300-499 Posts)
 
Posts: 314
Joined: Thu Mar 18, 2010 6:45 pm
Location: Southern California

Re: Be a Better Writer--CHARACTERIZATION

Postby WriterFearNot » Wed Feb 19, 2014 9:15 pm

Hello Jan and Rachel M!

While reading through this lesson, I kept thinking of the different characters in my novel-in-progress. Some of these characters are more rounded than others, but I'd have to say that my main character, Kristen, is the most rounded of all of them. A lot of factors went into the creation of Kristen, not the least of which was time. I started writing the story in January of 2010. When I began, I knew very little about Kristen: she was a young professional, and she was running from her past. I began with Kristen reflecting on her 'so-called life' and then week after week, I'd ask myself, "If Kristen were here, now, what would happen to her this week?"

And then, the important part, I'd ask myself "Why?" Like Rachel mentioned earlier, I believe this was the single most important question I asked myself. Why did this happen to her? Why did she react the way she did? I asked why over and over. After a couple of years of this, I ended up with a decent core story (though I had to throw away a lot of 'trails to nowhere'). I also got to know Kristen pretty well. Often, I'd think of Kristen when I was at an event, or shopping, or out with friends. And I'd ask myself, "What would Kristen think of that tattoo on that man?" I talked about Kristen so much, I had friends calling me and sending me pictures of things they thought Kristen would like.

This gave me the idea to start a Pinterest board for Kristen, called "Kristen's Favorite Things." On this board, I collect pictures that tie back to the story and pictures of all the things Kristen would like. You can see that board here: http://www.pinterest.com/tleesanty/kristens-favorite-things/. I love this board, because it "describes" Kristen pretty well.

Anyway, like you (Jan and Rachel), I like building backstory gradually. I'd say that I like to let the story, characters, and backstory grow organically, but I've never felt right phrasing it like that ever since I read a rant by an organic farmer who insisted that words can't be organic. :?

Thanks for this lesson, Jan. I didn't do the homework, but I got a lot out of it. I'm using it now as I continue to work to round out my flat-Ethan. Hey, maybe I should create a Pinterest board for him!

Theresa

User avatar
glorybee
Moderator
Moderator
 
Posts: 6015
Joined: Thu Nov 10, 2005 11:46 pm
Location: Michigan

Re: Be a Better Writer--CHARACTERIZATION

Postby glorybee » Wed Feb 19, 2014 10:57 pm

Theresa, thanks a bunch for this wonderful and detailed response! I hope it will benefit Rachel and anyone else who stops by. You're the best!
Jan Ackerson

User avatar
RachelM
Pencil Plus (Over 500 Posts)
Pencil Plus (Over 500 Posts)
 
Posts: 518
Joined: Fri Jun 07, 2013 11:52 pm

Re: Be a Better Writer--CHARACTERIZATION

Postby RachelM » Thu Feb 20, 2014 1:09 am

Theresa!

Thanks so much for sharing. It was fascinating to look at your Pinterest board and get to know Kristen by learning the things that she loves and is passionate about. It almost gave me a shiver to realize that she is only real in your imagination and yet she loves the roar of the waves, the vintage, the bizarre, and everything pink. She is strong, and yet, I think she is vulnerable too.

This is an amazing way to bring a character to life. It has brought a whole range of possibilities into my imagination.

I've written two rough drafts for novels, but I know that I'm not nearly ready to try and get a novel published; I have so much to learn. I want to create something powerful and vibrant and I want to put in all the time and effort necessary to make that happen.

I have another idea for a novel and I feel like it is bigger, and has the potential to be more powerful, than the other two. I want to start doing some of the techniques that you have used to really develop my characters. Maybe I'll start a diary for my MC.

Thank you! I can't wait to read your book. :D
My FaithWriters profile: RachelM FW member profile

User avatar
Cinnamon Bear
Pencil 6 (300-499 Posts)
Pencil 6 (300-499 Posts)
 
Posts: 325
Joined: Fri Nov 03, 2006 12:35 am
Location: Massachusetts

Re: Be a Better Writer--CHARACTERIZATION

Postby Cinnamon Bear » Thu Feb 20, 2014 8:47 am

I am following this thread with great interest. I am not quite ready to add anything of substance so I am making this "Hello" post so that I will receive notices of new posts. :)

Cinnamon Bear

User avatar
WriterFearNot
Pencil 6 (300-499 Posts)
Pencil 6 (300-499 Posts)
 
Posts: 314
Joined: Thu Mar 18, 2010 6:45 pm
Location: Southern California

Re: Be a Better Writer--CHARACTERIZATION

Postby WriterFearNot » Thu Feb 20, 2014 6:12 pm

@Rachel,

Wow, I love that you were able to learn so much about Kristen just by looking at her board. Without ever reading the story, you nailed her primary character traits :D

I also love your idea of starting a diary for your MC.

You have what it takes to write a great novel...I can see your passion for writing even in your forum comments and discussions. Keep writing, Rachel, and one day, you WILL finish that powerful and vibrant story.

Theresa

User avatar
lish1936
Pencil Plus (Over 500 Posts)
Pencil Plus (Over 500 Posts)
 
Posts: 1969
Joined: Sun Aug 01, 2010 9:21 pm
Location: New York

Re: Be a Better Writer--CHARACTERIZATION

Postby lish1936 » Fri Feb 21, 2014 4:16 pm

Jan,
I purposely didn't read the posted answers because my skills at analyzing a story are still developing, and I didn't want to get cold feet. I may have gotten some things wrong, but I'm giving it a shot. :D



Read the story above, and then answer any of the following questions.

Which character(s) is/are flat characters? What makes them flat?

I thought Joe Tanner and Momma were flat characters because they only made a brief appearance in the story. The incidental appearance, I think, makes it difficult to know much about them, how they behaved or how they changed during the story.

Which character(s) is/are rounded characters? What makes them rounded?

Pearl, Jasper Lee, and MJ were "rounded characters," because I found multiple ways to describe them, and they were key players in the plot. Jasper Lee was young, industrious, resourceful, disciplined, and godly. He went from being a young man working his way through school to a responsible, loving husband and father. Without a character like him, Pearl would have no story to tell. He created the crisis and tension. Pearl was young, poorly educated, lived a country life, deeply in love, mature beyond her years, not shy about showing her feelings, a loving mother, and a grieving widow. Her life was full of positive and negative experiences that turned her into a mature seventeen-year-old. M.J. looked like his father, had developed an ability to walk ( or maybe he crawled) at an early age, was curious, and he contributed to the story by playing a key role in restoring his mother's faith.

Give an example of Pearl’s actions that add to her characterization.

Her lack of shyness or inhibitions about showing her feeling in public. " I was carryin' some pieces of pie when I stopped and jes plain stared at him."

Give an example of Pearl’s speech that adds to her characterization.

Her lack of education and her rural upbringing was quite obvious in the way she dropped final syllables, and adopted the backward, rural country dialect. "The men at Momma's said he was mostly goin' off on his own fer lunch these days."


Give an example of Pearl’s thoughts that add to her characterization.

Pearl paid little attention to the conventional thoughts about when a person should fall in love. She was an independent thinker who took on the role of parenting at seventeen-years-old with gusto.

"Don't let nobody tell you a thirteen-year-old can't fall In love."
..."we had us a bitty baby boy."

I didn’t really describe Pearl, other than mentioning her age. Write a sentence that might fit somewhere in this narrative, using something that might describe Pearl and add to her characterization."

Even though Pearl had limited education, she was able to describe her inner feelings in very descriptive ways.

"I felt fierce an 'empty"...my heart frosted over...my frozen spirit crackled."


Finally, ask any question or make a comment about characterizations.

Among the things I'm taking away from this lesson is that you can "round out" even main characters by using less adjectives and focusing on actions and thoughts.
E-Book - Retirement Lane - How to Celebrate Life After 60

Fortunate 500


I write even when I think I can't, because I must. :-)

I love to write. Nothing escapes the crush I have on the written word. I'm hooked on words!!

"Let words bewitch you. Scrutinze them, mull them, savor them, and in combination, until you see their subtle differences and the ways they tint each other." Francis Flaherty

User avatar
glorybee
Moderator
Moderator
 
Posts: 6015
Joined: Thu Nov 10, 2005 11:46 pm
Location: Michigan

Re: Be a Better Writer--CHARACTERIZATION

Postby glorybee » Fri Feb 21, 2014 4:43 pm

Well done, Lillian!

I totally agree with you about adjectives. Writers use far too many of them. I'm not totally anti-adjective, but they aren't always necessary. I'm currently editing a lengthy MS (not by a FaithWriter or by anyone who's likely to see this) in which the writer uses one or more adjectives to describe every noun. I'm slashing them left and right.

I blame English teachers (of which I was one, for thirty years). In elementary writing classes, there's always a unit on adding adjectives to your sentences to make them more interesting. So we have exercises like:

The __________ girl and her __________ dog walked to the __________ house.

Students see that

The poor girl and her little dog walked to the old house.

...is a more interesting sentence, so they learn to add adjectives whenever they can. But no one ever teaches them, perhaps in high school, that an even better sentence might be

The orphan and her chihuahua walked to the shack.
Jan Ackerson

User avatar
lish1936
Pencil Plus (Over 500 Posts)
Pencil Plus (Over 500 Posts)
 
Posts: 1969
Joined: Sun Aug 01, 2010 9:21 pm
Location: New York

Re: Be a Better Writer--CHARACTERIZATION

Postby lish1936 » Fri Feb 21, 2014 5:57 pm

Jan, now that I took a look at the other posts, I'm intrigued by how readers vary in viewpoints. I also apologize for misunderstanding the last question. I know you're busy, so if you don't respond, I'll understand. But I wanted to complete the assignment correctly, even though you didn't take off points for not following directions. :D

"I didn’t really describe Pearl, other than mentioning her age. Write a sentence that might fit somewhere in this narrative, using something that might describe Pearl and add to her characterization."

"Now that I done up and married Jasper Lee, I feel all grown-up and stuff, jes' like Momma."

Lillian
E-Book - Retirement Lane - How to Celebrate Life After 60

Fortunate 500


I write even when I think I can't, because I must. :-)

I love to write. Nothing escapes the crush I have on the written word. I'm hooked on words!!

"Let words bewitch you. Scrutinze them, mull them, savor them, and in combination, until you see their subtle differences and the ways they tint each other." Francis Flaherty

User avatar
glorybee
Moderator
Moderator
 
Posts: 6015
Joined: Thu Nov 10, 2005 11:46 pm
Location: Michigan

Re: Be a Better Writer--CHARACTERIZATION

Postby glorybee » Fri Feb 21, 2014 6:05 pm

lish1936 wrote:But I wanted to complete the assignment correctly, even though you didn't take off points for not following directions. :D

Lillian


I keep a running total of points on my computer, though. :D
Jan Ackerson

Next

Return to Jan's Writing Basics

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 3 guests


© MeasurelessMedia. All rights reservedTerms of Service



Jesus - True for You But not for Me      Website Builder     Build Website     Is Jesus God?    
Does God exist?     Build a writers website     Does truth exist?     Website online in minutes