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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.

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Cinnamon Bear
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Re: Be a Better Writer--CHARACTERIZATION

Postby Cinnamon Bear » Sat Feb 22, 2014 11:18 am

WriterFearNot wrote: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.


Theresa, thanks very much for the link to your Pinterest board. What a great idea! I have sort of a collection of pictures to describe my character. But it is not nearly as well organized as yours and it never occurred to me to post it on Pinterest. :)

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Re: Be a Better Writer--CHARACTERIZATION

Postby Cinnamon Bear » Sat Feb 22, 2014 11:24 am

I would like to learn more about how I can breathe more life into the characters in my Challenge entries and still stay within the 750 words. :)

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Re: Be a Better Writer--CHARACTERIZATION

Postby glorybee » Sat Feb 22, 2014 1:34 pm

Cinnamon Bear wrote:I would like to learn more about how I can breathe more life into the characters in my Challenge entries and still stay within the 750 words. :)

Cinnamon Bear


Well--in addition to the things I said above, there's always the advice that I keep returning to: word choice, word choice, word choice.

For example--which of these tells you about my granddaughter in a more interesting way?

Piper is always active, and she tends to get into trouble.

Piper is a mischievous imp.


The first one has eleven words, and the second has five--yet the second has more interesting words, and paints the same picture of Piper.

Similarly:

Ben looked in the mirror. He was surprised to see that his hair seemed to be receding farther up his forehead. When Jan walked by the open bathroom door, he felt subconscious about his increasing baldness.

The mirror didn't lie. Ben stared mournfully. When Jan walked by, he flushed deeply and put a hand to his smooth forehead. Maybe she'll think I'm still handsome. Like Jean-Luc Picard.


That's 36 words versus 30 words: not a significant saving, but when you only have 750 words, every one counts. And there's more information about Ben in the second one: The first one just reports his actions and tells you how he feels, while the second shows his instinctual reaction to try to cover the bald spot when Jan walks by, and then indicates that he hopes it won't bother her (he loves her, wants to impress her). It also tells you that he's a fan of Star Trek, which might lead you to infer some other things about Ben's personality.

The lesson on tight writing here might help:

viewtopic.php?f=67&t=37453

Did that answer your question? If not, let me know and I'll try again.

p.s. If you do an author search on the FaithWriters' home page, you can read the works of some of the "super-Masters" who are not writing here anymore, but were masters of characterization. Read Ann Grover, Lisa Mikitarian, Chely Roach--they might give you some ideas of how to do this in ultra-short fiction.
Jan Ackerson

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Re: Be a Better Writer--CHARACTERIZATION

Postby Cinnamon Bear » Sat Feb 22, 2014 2:22 pm

Jan, thanks for your reply which was indeed very helpful.

I know that you already provided a great deal of helpful information in your initial post regarding three ways of achieving characterization. But I am bit of a dolt and have to be reminded two and three times to read everything carefully. :oops:

I think it's a great idea to read the works of those in the Challenge "Hall of Fame". I started reading Ann Grover's entries and I can see that it will be helpful to me.

One observation---possibly a question---regarding showing vs. telling:

Your second paragraph about Ben is not only shorter and more revealing than the first, it seems to me to be more showing than telling. This surprised me because I often have difficulty fitting showing into few words and therefore sometimes resort to telling.

Whereas regarding Piper: It seems that both sentences are telling although the second sentence is shorter and more colorful. If I were instead to describe a prank or a trick by Piper which shows her to be an mischievous imp without actually saying so, I would most likely need more words.

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Re: Be a Better Writer--CHARACTERIZATION

Postby glorybee » Sat Feb 22, 2014 2:42 pm

Cinnamon Bear wrote:One observation---possibly a question---regarding showing vs. telling:

Your second paragraph about Ben is not only shorter and more revealing than the first, it seems to me to be more showing than telling. This surprised me because I often have difficulty fitting showing into few words and therefore sometimes resort to telling.

Whereas regarding Piper: It seems that both sentences are telling although the second sentence is shorter and more colorful. If I were instead to describe a prank or a trick by Piper which shows her to be an mischievous imp without actually saying so, I would most likely need more words.

Cinnamon Bear


You're right on both counts, although I'm not really on the "showing vs. telling" bandwagon. That might be a topic for another lesson, perhaps!
Jan Ackerson

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Re: Be a Better Writer--CHARACTERIZATION

Postby amilli » Thu Feb 27, 2014 2:11 am

Late, but present for class.

I always enjoy your stories, this one was no different, Jan. The MC's voice and the setting brought me back to two books I used to read in High school: "Of Mice & Men" & "Shane." A western mood with ranch & cabins & horses. Loved it!

To the home work :arrow:

Flat characters: Mama & Mister Joe Tanner. They're flat because they are minor characters introduced to move the story along. Readers don't know much about them because they are not developed throughout the story.

Rounded Characters: Pearl and Jasper Lee. they're rounded because they are fully developed. Readers get to know them personally, we watched them grow, change, die etc. They become real to us and they give the story life.

My sentence: "Pearl noisily chewed her gum as she write Mister Joe Tanner's order on her sweat stained note pad." (I know it's third person but it's just to describe a little more of Pearls character)

I never really realized that it is acceptable to write an entire piece "grammatically incorrect"... I mean with the exception that it's in the writer's voice. I always figure one could only do that in dialogues! (Writing "gonna" & "Lemme" etc) This will be an interesting challenge for me, I'm going to write a piece like that.

I was advice to limit the amount of characters in a challenge entry because there is limited wiggle room to develop them. It is possible though, I went out on a limb and did a piece with several "Semi-flat characters" (If I can call them that) that the readers got to know... It got a highly commended in the challenge. Here's a link:
http://www.faithwriters.com/wc-article- ... p?id=47495
Amelia

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Re: Be a Better Writer--CHARACTERIZATION

Postby glorybee » Thu Feb 27, 2014 10:30 am

amilli wrote:I was advice to limit the amount of characters in a challenge entry because there is limited wiggle room to develop them. It is possible though, I went out on a limb and did a piece with several "Semi-flat characters" (If I can call them that) that the readers got to know... It got a highly commended in the challenge. Here's a link:
http://www.faithwriters.com/wc-article- ... p?id=47495


Amelia, thanks for sharing this piece. It would be possible to make the narrator a more rounded character by concentrating more on her and her response to the assignment, and reducing the roles of the other characters.

It's a lovely story!
Jan Ackerson

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Re: Be a Better Writer--CHARACTERIZATION

Postby amilli » Thu Feb 27, 2014 9:18 pm

Thanks Jan.

I know I could have spent more time on the narrator, but my aim was to include as much students as possible without being too vague yet keeping the narrator's voice, all in 750 words. It was a group class assignment so I didn't want much individuality. I love challenges, so I wanted to get out of the comfort zone and challenge myself a bit.

But I do understand that presenting one or two well rounded characters is more personal. Rounded characters will also draw readers into the story and get them rooting for the MCs. Your lesson also made me more convinced that writers don't need a bag full of adjectives to polish up characters or make them shine.... I just need to keep practicing!
Amelia

My writing is a passion, not a hobby!

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