Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Characterization

It's been a while since I did an entry on craft, so today let's focus on characterization. This is the sum of all your character's traits, good AND bad, that make her who she is on paper. It's important to keep your character from sounding "cookie-cutter." Anyone can write about the jilted woman who's afraid to love again. But if you pay special attention to rounding her out, humanizing her, THEN you've got something special.

What are her flaws? Everyone's got some. Don't love your hero and heroine so much that you make them perfect. That makes for dull reading. And make those flaws INTERESTING. Not just "She's too kind," or "She works too hard." Maybe she's an impossibly nosy person who eavesdrops and then overhears that her straight-laced politician boss is having an affair with HER ex. Maybe the two are involved in a huge money-laundering scam. Maybe your heroine's nosiness gets her in so deep that she thinks she can solve this herself. Now you're getting somewhere - strong characters can sometimes help you carve out the plot just by being who they are. (Pick the worst situation that can happen to them, and drop them into it. Works every time!)

But you've only scratched the surface. Maybe she bites her nails when she's nervous. Lots of us do it and can relate. This kind of stuff endears your reader to your characters, because they have foibles just like us. Little flaws can be as important to characterization as larger ones.

It's easy to give your heroine superhuman abilities and talents, because you like her. But it's more meaningful to give them the bad stuff, because it opens them up for us to jump in and fall in love with them. So give some thought to your characterization even before you write a single word of the book. Your characters may write it for you!

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