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|09-28-2007, 04:48 AM||View Post #1 (Link) Characterization|
Join Date: Sep 2007
Location: At home
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This week's word of the day is:
This post is about how you actually reveal your characters in the story. And the "Characters" post was already long enough. Bleh.
Showing and Telling
If you've never heard the phrase, "Show don't Tell", then you just did. There are two main ways to reveal your characters in fiction: showing and telling.
Sometimes, it is more efficient to tell the reader things about your character. For example, with physical descriptions. It is more appropriate to tell the reader physical traits than to have characters show specific actions that do it. Example:
Mary was a twelve-year-old girl.Showing:
Mary looked at her birth certificate. "I was born twelve years ago," she read. "And I'm a girl, apparently."Okay, that second example was just ridiculous , but it shows that sometimes it is better to tell things than to show them. This can include age, setting, and physical traits.
But it is important to not rely completely on telling. Revealing info through showing is usually more interesting because it gives the reader more information to engage with. Most characterization should be done with showing.
Bob was angry.Showing:
Bob took one final glare at Rob. Then he howled with rage and pounced upon him, taking out his fury on the unforgiving bully. "You deserve this, and this!" he said, punching him repeatedly.The first example is boring. It tells the reader that Bob is angry, but nothing else. The second example is not only more interesting, but it shows just how furious Bob is. We never actually say that Bob is angry. It's implied by the actions he's showing.
Showing helps the reader stay more focused, which creates momentum and tension. Which example would you want to keep reading about? The second, hopefully.
Showing also lets you slow down the story's pace. Instead of saying "Bob was angry" and later saying "Bob wasn't angry anymore", showing allows you to display the progression of Bob's anger slowing down, possibly over several pages.
Showing characterization is also more likelike. In real life, you don't learn about people's personality right away. You see them showing their traits, and you gradually learn more about who they are and how they act. The same goes for storytelling.
Don't tell the readers everything at once. Keep their interest, let them slowly find things out for themselves. If you keep showing the way a character acts, the reader will naturally learn what to expect from that character.
In literature, there are four ways to SHOW a character's traits:
Action: You've heard "Actions speak louder than words" and "I'll believe it when I see it", right? Action is great in stories because it reveals a lot to a reader. You can reveal a character's personality by the way they answer a phone call, eat dinner, or even how they react to other characters' actions. For these reasons, Action is usually the strongest way to reveal a character.
While actions can reveal a character, the actions characters take in times of crisis usually reveal the most about them. If Maria knows that there are children in a burning building, will she save them, or decide not to risk her own life? Whatever her decision, it will reveal her true nature: is she selfish, or selfless?
Characters are also revealed through their speech. What they say, how they say it, and what they don't say will show a lot about that character. In real life, one of the best ways to get to know someone is to talk to them.
Someone catches George cheating on his test, and his parents find out. They question him. Will he:
- Come clean and tell the truth?
- Deny cheating?
- Tell the truth, but make up "good" reasons why he did it?
- Say nothing?
- Get angry and yell at them instead?
Each answer will make George a different person. He is revealed through his speech.
Just by looking at someone, you can probably guess at a person's personality. You can draw conclusions based on physical looks, clothing style, manner of walking, and facial expression. A character might also try to dress or look a certain way so that other people make assumptions about what they're like.
A skinny girl wearing sunglasses will not give the same impression as an old man with a 3-foot beard.
One advantage of writing fiction is that thoughts can be displayed much more easily than in a play or movie. Telling the reader what a character is thinking will say a lot about them. It can also reveal information to the reader which the characters does not reveal to other characters - dramatic irony.
"Of course I'll see you there! Can't wait!" Brad called to his cousin. Yeah, like that will ever happen, he thought.
Lilac walked through the emerald forest, seeing beautiful, peaceful creatures as she walked. I wish I could help them, but I'll never be able to stop the construction company! she thought.Make sure to use a combination of all four methods. Sometimes, conflicting messages via different methods can reveal something about a character - like when Walter says one thing but thinks another.
Once you create a character, you can reveal hundreds of things about his/her personality. You could spend an entire chapter talking about what they would do or think in different situations, which would undoubtedly flesh them out, right? But information overload is a bad thing.
Every time you reveal something about a character, it should move the story forward or enhance the story. Don't say anything that doesn't need to be said. Maybe Ron likes to play golf every Friday, but if you're writing a scene where he's in prison, that information probably isn't necessary. It would clutter your writing and the story would lose focus.
Last one for characterization! The truth is, a character's name can be very important in a story. You can even let a character's name play a role in their characterization. For example:
Draco Malfoy - Harry Potter's rival.
Draco is a backstabbing trickster and bully. What does his name say about him? "Draco" means "dragon", and the way he likes to push others around is certainly dragonlike. "Malfoy" is derived from an Old French word "mal foi" which means "bad faith". Is Draco trustworthy or faithful? Certainly not! Thus, we have learned something about him through his name. Doing this in your story isn't always necessary, but it can be fun.
Try to avoid giving cliche names to your characters unless it's for a good reason. "Joe Smith" is a common, cliche name, so try to avoid it. Readers tend to remember characters with really unique or interesting names. "Dumbledore", "Bartleby", and "Moby Dick" are good examples of unusual names.
It is important not to give lots of characters similar names. If you have a story with the main characters Mary, Maria, Mara, and May, it will be very confusing.
It is also possible to let a character go nameless! Authors usually do this in order to make their characters anonymous, to show that what happens to the character could happen to anyone. Like if a nameless character gets ripped off by a big company, the author's message could be that the character could be you!
And that's all, for now!
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