Characterization Corner


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Thread: Characterization Corner

  1. #1
    Aevin
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    Characterization Corner

    Author's Note:
    I'll be adding to this later, but I hope people will find it helpful even in its current state.


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    The characters of a story are just as important as a story's plot. Even the most riveting plot lines will fall flat if they don't involve people the readers can care about. How does one develop a character's personality to a level that seems believable? How can words on paper be used most effectively to create a person? These are questions this guide will strive to answer.

    Types of Characters
    A story will include many different types of characters, all of whom can be sorted into the groups below. Depending on how important a character is to the plot, he or she will be developed with varying degrees of depth.

    Protagonist(s)- Also called the hero or heroine, the protagonist is the central character the work focuses on. Usually, this is the character who changes the most throughout the story, who learns the most, and on whom the point of view centers. In some cases, works have more than one protagonist, though this is relatively rare.

    Antagonist(s)- The villain of the story who directly opposes the protagonist. While not all stories have antagonists in the form of characters, it is a common way of developing conflict. Antagonists will be at odds with protagonists over differing views, and will often represent a force opposite what the protagonists stand for--in the most basic sense, good vs. evil. Works may have more than one antagonist, though not always represented by characters.

    Main characters- Main characters include the protagonists, the antagonists, and any characters who interact with them on a deep level to develop plot. These are characters who should be developed as fully as possible without impeding the flow of the story.

    Secondary characters- Characters who exist to move the story along. These characters are usually more transitions than actual characters, pushing the plot along when the main characters are stuck in a rut. They aren't usually described very well, and aren't very deep. Characterization for them is brief and topical. Examples would be a traveler who is asked for directions, a palace guard, a soldier who is caught in the crossfire, or a messenger.

    Ways of Characterizing
    Since all your characters will have limited "screen time," make it count for as much as possible. Use the following to show as much as you can about your characters:

    What they think:
    The characters' motivations and thought process. Tell us why the characters act the way they do. For the protagonist, this is easy to do with first person or third person close point of view, in which the character or the author can directly explain what the character thinks. For others, the perception of the protagonist, narrator and readers are especially important.

    What they do:
    The characters' actions may be the most important way of characterizing them. For most characters, directly explaining their thoughts will seem unnatural, so use the things they do, as well as their body language, to show the reader what they must be thinking. The narrator or protagonist can speculate about the reasons behind characters' actions, giving additional insight into what makes them tick.

    What they say:
    What a character says, (as well as what he or she doesn't say), can reveal a lot about him or her. Also, speech patterns or accents can help. A nervous character may stutter or trail off a lot, and more reserved characters may speak rarely and with short, curt sentences. For example, the character of "Stuttering Bill" in Stephen King's It always s-s-speaks with a s-s-s-tammer, and when he doesn't, King is careful to provide reasons why.

    Other characters' reactions:
    What do the other characters think or say about them, and how do they react when they are around? Does morale increase when the General is near, or is everyone uptight and terrified? What do they say about him behind his back?

    How they/their surroundings look:
    We say "don't judge a book by its cover," and frown on judging someone's personality on physical appearance. Nonetheless, someone's appearance can be a useful clue to the type of person they are. Also, a person's surroundings can reveal a lot about him or her. Describing a character's room might provide key insights into his personality. In fiction, you can even use unrelated environments such as the weather to characterize someone.

    Tricks of the trade:
    Use aspects of writing such as tone and voice, similes, metaphors, images and other elements of style to characterize. If writing is a stage production, this is your chance to change the lighting and the makeup of your character. Setting a dark tone will change the atmosphere in which a character is received. Using certain kinds of metaphors and similes can change the readers' sympathies toward a character.

    If you have any comments, suggestions, or contributions on the subject of characterization, please feel free to contact me. Credit will be given, and original posts retained when possible.
    Last edited by Aevin; June 22nd, 2006 at 07:43 AM.

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