Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Express Your Character

As an author, I'm always fascinated by characterization. So I thought it might be fun to explore this topic over the next few blogs.


Characterization rests mainly on three legs: dialogue, action, and description. Of the three, description may be the least important. In fact, some authors never describe their hero or heroine and leave it up to the reader to decide what the character looks like. This works (pretty well, too) because ultimately, the reader builds up their own image of the characters anyway, despite what the authors says about it. It's not the author's factual descriptions of the characters that matters to the reader.

What does matter? Indirect descriptions. These descriptions are expressed by one character about another. Those indirect descriptions bring both interest and richness to the story.

When one character sees another, what he notices reveals as much about him as the other characters he's describing. For example, let's take a man who has been a loser all his life. No matter how much he tries, he ends up messing up. As a result, he's become bitter and envious of others, believing that everyone else has a better, and easier, life.

If he sees a brunette, he may describe her as "Little Miss Perfect Princess," and he may believe she has it made--doesn't have to work and has never had a hard day in her life. He'll see her polished nails and imagine she goes weekly to a manicurist. And she must have a maid, too, to keep her clothes so white and crisply pressed. She's got it all.

His envy makes him see those things that support his beliefs, despite other more subtle signs about her true position in life. He won't see that her life isn't so perfect, either. He won't notice that her "big fancy foreign car" is fifteen years old and has a ding in the fender that she couldn't afford to repair. Or that her clothes, while good quality, are well-worn with slightly baggy knees and nearly transparent elbows. Or that the cuticles on her right hand are ragged because she's right-handed and does her own nails and manicures.

He sees what he needs to see to confirm his belief that everyone else has all the luck and s better off than he is. Therefore, his descriptions of others are filled with envy. He only sees signs of wealth and an easy life, and ignores the rest.

That's just a small aspect of characterization, but an undeniably powerful one for it let's you relay important information about two characters, simultaneously. What could be better than that?

And as I'm always interested in expanding my horizons, be sure to leave your comments and tips about favorite techniques used to portray characters--whether you're a writer or a reader.

6 comments:

Lu said...

Great post and fabulous examples. Characterization is such a tough nut to crack. The only tip I have is to make sure I'm in deep, deep POV, and only experience what my character can see, touch, taste, etc.

Lee Lopez said...

As a writer that is one of the hardest things to do, get the characters right, so they jump off the page right into the heart of the reader.
I don't have any tips since I just try to do the best I can with dialogue. That really shows a lot of personality of the character by their attitude, and language. So I guess I do know something after all!

Jill James said...

I love description, working to use dialogue better. Love your example of how a bitter man sees the world. Love that his descriptor of her, Little Miss Perfect, says it all.

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Joanne said...

This probably doesn't make much sense, but the more I write, the more I believe that less description is more. Same goes for characterization, a little can say a lot.

Clarissa Southwick said...

Great insight into character development. This is something I struggle with, so I'm really looking forward to this series of posts on characterization.