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Author Topic: Characterization -- Part 4  (Read 5925 times)

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Bob Mueller

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Characterization -- Part 4
« on: October 17, 2006, 10:58:08 PM »

Date:         Thursday, February 25, 1999 06:59 PM

BookMarc #16
Characterization - part 4

If we want to reveal our characters to our readers, we must first get to know them ourselves. Intimately.

What does he looks like? What is his place in the world? What does she do for a living? Real people don't stumble around w/o a means of support. Their occupation colors the way they think and act, even if they don't do it in the story. What are her goals? Remember Oself's desire to reach the mountain top? What are his goals and why are they important to him? What inner conflicts, strengths and weaknesses, are aids and obstacles in the goal's way? Where does she come from? This is reflected in the way she speaks? What are his hobbies and interests? What are his dialogue tags, those often used phrases and comments? What are the little mannerisms and quirks that she pick up in life? What are her strengths and weaknesses? Even the strongest of us have doubts and weakness, even the weakest of us have strengths. What does his home look like? How does she make love? Or not make love? All of these things make up the ghosts that hide in the corners and crannies and closets of us all, just waiting for the right stimulus to pop out and yell--surprise. So they must be for our characters as well. It's what makes them tick.

Obviously every character in the story doesn't get the full treatment. That is reserved for all Point Of View (POV) characters. These are the people who's heads we inhabit. Anything less than the Full Monty here will seriously weaken our story. And not far behind are the main characters that are integral to the outcome. From here we move down in degrees to important minor characters, minors, and walk-ons who have no dialogue and only appear as a blip on the conscience.

But even with walk-ons we can dab a splash of color. We can say, "The doorman whistled up a cab." Black and white, right? Just facts. Or we can say, "The doorman whistled up a cab with a brass police whistle." That tad of specificity not only gives us sound, the police whistle warbling in our ear, but the brass tells us the place is up-scale, or the doorman pretentious. Attention to small details can add much to a story. It's verisimilitude, the feeling of actually being there. Is it worth spending the extra five words? In a novel, probably. In a short story, your call. But definitely if we bring him back again. The whistle, a quirk, or mannerism, will tag us in.

In BookMarc #17 we'll try to flesh out some of the traits of our main characters, but we won't use all of it in the story, folks. One of the reasons I do characterization after the first draft is the same reason I hold off on my research, to forestall the temptation to add things just because I worked so hard to get them. Remember, our writing should only contain that which advances the plot, adds to the characterization, or gives us a sense of place, verisimilitude. But all the material we gather WILL help us see our characters more clearly, and as we move through succeeding drafts we'll find spots where bits and pieces of background will naturally fall into place, and give our readers a richer experience of our characters' lives.

As an example, in BLOODY BONSAI, after past-fifty Jim Dandy races around a corner, he grabs a pole to catch his breath and stares down at his Lincoln in the shadows. And so I have him remember how he bought it to brighten his life after his wife of many years died, and how little it actually relieved his bereavement. It's a little reinforcement of his love for his wife, which in turn reflects on his loyalty and steadiness. Again, as I mention in BookMarc #15, I think Dennis McFarland does this very well in THE MUSIC ROOM.

Copyright Peter E. Abresch BookMarc February 13, 1998

From:    Jane B
Date:    Thursday, February 25, 1999 08:17 PM


Having just come back into the light after being closeted for 4 days with my killer, getting to know his back story, I have one thing to say...*Now* you tell me!

How come I could have done all this after the first draft? Don't I have to know what his back story is, to discover the motive lurking there, to create the victim, to create the crime scene, so my sleuth has something to solve?

If you tell me no, I will run screaming into the streets...

Jane :o)

Date:    Friday, February 26, 1999 12:02 AM

On 2/25/99 8:17:44 PM, Jane B wrote:
>Having just come back into the
>light after being closeted for
>4 days with my killer, getting
>to know his back story, I have
>one thing to say...*Now* you
>tell me!
>How come I could have done all
>this after the first draft?
>Don't I have to know what his
>back story is, to discover the
>motive lurking there, to
>create the victim, to create
>the crime scene, so my sleuth
>has something to solve?
>If you tell me no, I will run
>screaming into the streets...
I'm not Peter, but I can't even relate to not doing back story on my characters until after I've written the first draft. I don't end up knowing everything about them up front, and I add to their file as I go, but I have to know as much as I can.
I think you're on the right track as far as what you've been doing. Would you honestly be able to just start writing your story from beginning to end without doing any of the work you've been doing on your characters?

Date:    Wednesday, March 03, 1999 07:02 PM

Jane & Judy,
All right, youse guys, go back and read some earlier posts. I mentioned that in an informal survey I did if broke about half and half between those who had to work out their character before the first draft and those who did it after. We all work different. None of itís right and none of itís wrong, just different, how our psyche act and react.
Iím more plot oriented and so I usually strike out along the plotline figuring out what logically would take place and why a character logically do what he does, and as I work it down I store the character information in a file. When Iím finished with the first draft I go back and really work out all the character details and then start putting them in as I go through the second draft. Sorry, thatís the way I work, and it works for me.
Again, there is no right or wrong, but, of course, Iím righter(g).
Peter Abresch
the Jim Dandy ELDERHOSTEL Mysteries
& BookMarc

Date:    Thursday, March 04, 1999 04:41 PM

Jane and Judy,
In thinking over my last post over night, it occurred to me that I might have been misleading. I think I do some of my characterization in the planning and plotting stage. For instance, when I am building my plot, thinking it through, and I decide I need killer who can pass himself off as completely innocent, I will question how he can do that. Then I might logically decide that he would have to be bipolar or schizophrenic. Once I make that decision, I'll make a not of it in a brief character outline. Then when I'm pacing through my first draft that will be in my mind, and if some other things come up, maybe a reason for him being that way, I'll add it to the character note. But I don't do the full blow up of the character till I have the first draft complete.
Does that make more sense?
Peter Abresch
the Jim Dandy ELDERHOSTEL Mysteries
& BookMarc

Date:    Saturday, March 06, 1999 11:12 PM

Absolutely, that does make much more sense.:)

Date:    Tuesday, March 09, 1999 01:30 PM

Thanks for the reply, Judy. I think weíre on the right page.
Peter Abresch
the Jim Dandy ELDERHOSTEL Mysteries
& BookMarc

Sometimes it takes therapy to put the past behind you. Other times, it takes a 20 gallon trash bag and a couple of cinder blocks.
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