Wednesday, 24 September 2008

More on characters

Tell Me a Story - advice
"AJ can you help, please. I'm trying to come to terms with characterization. Is there any advice you can offer?"

Hi Sarah, thanks for the email. Here's a summary of things you should keep in mind. Hope it helps.

Characters are extremely important to your story and you must get them right.
  1. A good approach is to cut out magazine pictures of people who suit your characters. I pin mine above my desk so I never forget who they are and what they look like. Don't tell people who they might look like - use your own descriptive powers.
  2. Spend time developing a complete dossier of all physical traits, mental traits, education, backgrounds, friends and family, for each of your main characters before you start to write. Know what music they like, what food, what drink, what taste in clothes, what makes them laugh, smile, and cry.
  3. You must know everything about your characters to understand how they're going to react in a given situation.
  4. To capture reader’s attention, it is essential your people seem like real people.
  5. In a novel, ‘real’ is not tantamount to run of the mill. We're all run of the mill. Run of the mill is boring. However, bear in mind the most mundane person can turn out to be exceptional under pressure.
  6. Your readers should always empathize with your main characters.
  7. You should always empathize with your main characters.
  8. Proceedings influence people. Your people must develop with the story, they should be different at the end than the beginning, they must have ‘grown’ in some way.
  9. Don’t allow any protagonist to behave out of character just to fit in with the plot. Nothing should be contrived.
  10. You must illustrate all attributes of your main people, including, aptitude, looks, strengths, intellect, and emotional qualities - by showing not telling.
  11. Quirky characteristics can help distinguish a character, but keep it low key or it will seem out of place.
  12. Create unforgettable characters, so when your reader reaches the end of your novel they’ll be anxious about what happens to them.
Do all this, and your story will be well on its way to being a success.


Unknown said...

It's also worth mentioning that it's all too easy to let your storyline mould your character, whereas it should be that real characters will real lives have other influences as well.

If everything a character does or says is relevent to the story, then they certainly become part of the story, but nothing else, and as characters they can appear rather two dimensional.

In order to fill out your characters and to give them more believable personalities, it's a good idea to include aspects of their lives that have nothing to do with the storyline whatsoever: They may do things or say things with no relevance to the plot at all. From the point of view of the story this may seem all a bit trivial, but from the point of view of the character it isn't, and it provides the reader with evidence that the character has a life that goes beyond the pages of the book, and therefore makes them more real and more believable.

Anonymous said...

In terms of knowing your characters inside out, a really good tip is to go online and look for free 'personality tests'. Some of these are really extensive, they can take 45 minutes to fill out and then they give you a page summary of your personality. Fill it out as if you were your character, and then read the summary and see if it fits the idea you had in your head. It's really illuminating.

ajbarnett said...

Thanks, Overdue. A useful tip to follow.