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Thread: Characterization Techniques?
August 25th, 2012, 04:35 PM #1
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- Mar 2009
- Los Angeles
An effective way to build convincing characters is to show them in action. Not necessarily physical action. Emotional, mental, and social actions work too.
For emotional and mental actions it may be best to get inside the character's head. But you can show the external symptoms of emotional struggle or mental calculation. That's the way it's done in movie scripts.
____________________________________You can tell readers about a character, but this technique is emotionally "cool": less involving. It does have the advantage of being compact, but I use it more as a supplement to showing action.
____________________________________Another effective way to portray characters is give them family, friends, co-workers and side-kicks, frenemies, and outright enemies.
In "The Super Olympian" especially I worked to show the interactions of my sort-of superheroine with her brother, two sisters, and a few intimate friends who are almost family, and mention a few times how she was influenced by her mother.
In "Shapechanger's Birth" my heroine has no family, but makes a few close friends into a substitute family.
In "Sea Monster's Revenge" my heroine is a marine biologist accidentally turned into a were-seamonster. She befriends two "tribes" or cohorts of dolphins, talks to them in sea monster form, and invents a translation device which lets dolphins talk to humans.
____________________________________What about you? Are there any characterization techniques you think especially effective?
August 25th, 2012, 05:09 PM #2
Words and actions are at the top of my list. Thoughts are next.
And I think it revealing to show how what they are thinking contrasts with what they do and say, that is, the things they are forced by circumstances to do, the things they haven't the courage to do, the pretenses they must keep up, the times they don't measure up to what they expect of themselves, and the consequent feelings in all these cases of disappointment and/or frustration.
Regarding what you say about family and friends, I have been aware for a long time that the protagonists in fantasy novels too often lack families. Young children, in particular, don't play much of a role in most stories. When the invaders come, there is no need to take on the hardships and constraints of escorting the children and the old folks to the border. If a main character has one parent, that parent usually dies early in the book after imparting a great deal of wisdom. If they have two parents, these are all too often killed in the first chapter, setting up a revenge theme. Or the parents die so that the character can be raised by abusive relatives, easily shed without a qualm when the right time comes.
Of course, this sort of thing gives the main characters more freedom of action if they don't have the kind of ties and responsibilities that go with being part of a family.
And yet how they respond to such emotional bonds and responsibilities could be very revealing.
Last edited by Teresa Edgerton; August 25th, 2012 at 05:14 PM.
August 25th, 2012, 06:37 PM #3
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- May 2009
- Blog Entries
If you want to know about a character, see what they sleep with.
In my vampire detective novel, Heart Of A Killer, Chapter One describes the main character's hideout during the day while her soul is in Hell. The room is a hidden one behind a wall in the basement with no windows and an air recirculating system to keep fresh cool air going to reduce the stench of death as her body transforms into a corpse during the daylight hours. Her body totally regenerates at nightfall to a supernatural superhuman form with a strong urge to consume human blood.
More important to that are family photos she keeps in the room to remind her she has something to fight for, protecting her mortal family from unfriendly vampires.
The novel uses internal conflict, what goes on inside her head, as well as external conflict describing visually the world around her.
Last edited by Modern Day Myth; August 26th, 2012 at 04:45 PM.
August 26th, 2012, 04:01 PM #4
I second what everyone has said about interactions with family and friends being a good way to learn about a character. I also tend to think a lot about family background for my characters and how that informs their present actions - i.e. I have a character who is very protective of the heroine because he is from a culture where he was strongly encouraged to be protective of his sisters.
Another technique I use is to give my characters objects. If there's a ring (wedding or otherwise) that a character never takes off, or fiddles with constantly, that tells you something about them. Maybe they have a pet. Maybe they have a beat up old hat, or maybe a new hat every week (my newest favorite author, Lindsay Buroker, had a hat design contest for one of her characters). Maybe there's a particular book on the nightstand. A chair they like to sit in. Then you can think about why your character likes that chair best, and interesting things begin to happen...