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Transcript of Characterization
Dynamic: Characters who change over the course of a narrative. Characters often change in reaction to the conflict they encounter. Dynamic characters tend to play major roles.
Static: Characters who do not change over the course of a narrative. They are often minor “stock” or stereotypical characters (see also: flat).
Round: A character whose personality, background, motives, and other features are fully delineated by the author. Round characters are memorable, compelling and seem “real”
Flat: An often stereotypical or stock character who does not undergo any major character development over the course of a novel. Flat characters may still play necessary roles!
When writing dialogue, consider the following:
1. Pay attention to each character’s WORD CHOICE AND ATTITUDE.
Is their dialogue carefully thought out, with a formal tone?
Is it more colloquial? What kind of vocabulary do they use?
Do they have a specific phrase they lean on? Short or long sentences?
Dialogue demonstrates the background of a character.
2. AVOID SPEECHES. Avoid long speeches, especially in serious moments.
In real life, people rarely if ever make “speeches.”
I think that contemporary TV has encouraged this idea in our writing;
often a character in a drama will make a little speech that perfectly sums up
the “lesson” of the hour. This rarely, if ever, happens in real life.
3. BE CAREFUL WITH BACKGROUND INFO. It is possible to believably present background
information about a character via dialogue. However, be careful with this –
DO NOT have your character talk about information to someone who should already
know that information unless there is a relevant reason. There should
ALWAYS be a reason that a character gives information to another!
4. SUBTLETY. Pay attention to subtlety. Very few people say exactly what they
mean – or exactly what is on their mind – 100% of the time.
People tell half-truths and hem and haw and hesitate.
They may do this out of fear, uncertainty, guilt, and many
other reasons. What your character FAILS to say can
be just as telling as what they say.
- What does their dialogue reveal about how they are facing the
"problem" of the story?
- What information are they willing to reveal?
- How do they address other characters?
-Do they use words to harm or help others?
- Does your character think
before they speak?
Every action the character makes should further the plot OR develop character. This can be as simple as a brief gesture or as notable as the knight stabbing the dragon in the climax of your story. Remember that NO TWO CHARACTERS would complete the same action in exactly the same way.
One character might put a cup of coffee down gently, as if she was putting a sleeping baby in a crib. Another might slam it down carelessly while looking the other way. What would these actions tell you about your character?
When writing a character's actions, ask yourself:
- What are the major choices my character will make? Are they positive or negative? How will they decide to make those choices?
- Does my character act impulsively, or do they think before they act?
- How do other characters react to their actions?
- Are my character's actions consistent or erratic?
-What do major actions AND subtle gestures reveal about the inner thoughts or feelings of this character?
Keep in mind that the narrative perspective (point of view) of the
story will strongly affect how relevant this category is. A third-person perspective (outside narrator's perspective) may reveal thoughts in a different way than a first person perspective (character tells their own story).
When writing a character's thoughts, ask yourself:
- Are my character's thoughts generally positive or negative?
- What do they worry about? What do they fear? What do they dwell on? What are their hopes and dreams?
- What do my character's thoughts reveal about what they want?
- Do my character's thoughts correspond with their dialogue? Are they
an "open book," or are they more secretive?
- Which does my character do more: THINK or SPEAK? What does this reveal about their personality?
What am I trying to express about their character?
Remember that a character's thoughts do not have to
reflect YOUR thoughts as the author!
SHOWING vs. TELLING
Including GOOD detail is not just the same as “telling.” What exactly does “show, don’t tell” mean? It is the difference between EVOKING a scene (bringing it to life) and merely informing us something happened. For instance, you could TELL us: “The little boy was clearly angry because someone had taken away his toy.” That is not a great sentence; there is nothing memorable or “clear” about it. You want to create images. This is where imagery is so important. Imagery consists of words that evoke one of our five senses – usually sight, but it can be sound, smell, touch, or taste as well. Describe the little boy’s eyes; how he moves, and maybe stamps his feet; the raised tone of his voice; his sharp gestures. I cannot emphasize how important subtle descriptions of GESTURE are!
NOTE: When you are short on space or you want to be emphatic, sometimes TELLING (INFORMING) is a competent way to express things. However, just make sure that what you TELL us is supported by what you SHOW.
When writing a character's description, ask yourself:
- What details do you want to include about physical appearance? This may depend on the story you want to tell.
- Do you want to explicitly describe the character's personality traits? If so, how? Does their description prove to be true? Is it believable? Remember the importance of showing vs. telling.
- If your story is told from a first-person perspective, ask: how does my character describe other characters?
Always seek for FRESH, ORIGINAL, CONCRETE LANGUAGE:
"Don't tell me the moon is shining;
show me the glint of light on broken glass."
When writing character interactions, ask yourself:
- Does my character have important relationships with others? Are they positive or negative?
- How does my character react to other characters?
- How do other characters react to my character?
- How do other characters perceive my character? Is he or she likeable? Unlikeable? Does this change throughout the story I want to tell?
- What character TYPE is my character? Major, minor, dynamic, static...
- Does my character speak for ME?
- What are my character's strengths? What are their weaknesses?
- What is the main source of conflict in the story? Conflict is the force, challenge, or person against which your protagonist is struggling. Ask: What or who is my character struggling against? How does my character react to it?
- Will my character resolve or defeat the source of conflict? Or will they be defeated by it? Why am I making this decision? Does this tie into my big message or big idea?
- Will my character change as a result of their exposure to conflict?
You don't have to sit down and answer each and every one of these questions before you write a story. Sometimes you have a good idea for a PLOT before you know what your CHARACTERS are like - and sometimes characters develop very easily, as if we are getting to know a new friend or rediscovering an old one. These are simply questions that you can keep in mind while you write. Having everything "pre-planned" may not always be possible or even ideal - but being AWARE of how your character is revealed IS ideal. If you reveal characters through action, dialogue, description, thought, and interactions, they will seem interesting and "real" to your readers!
Characterization and Character Types
Protagonist: The central or primary personal figure (character) in a literary narrative.
Antagonist: A character, group of characters, institution, or force that represents the opposition against which the protagonist must contend.
Major: One of the primary characters in a narrative. The protagonist is always one of the major characters.
Minor: Characters who are not the primary players in a narrative, but who still interact with the major characters and may play a necessary role.
More character types!
How can we use basic characterization tools?
What other tools can we use to reveal character traits?
Reactions and Interactions
What is my character's role in my story?
What's the big idea?
What is it?
Why is it important?
Basic Character Types
Being able to categorize the characters you write can help you envision their role in your story