Tag Archives: characterization

That Moment When…

  • You walk out of the store and realize your sock is stuck to the Velcro on your pants pocket,
  • You thought you had your hand on the back of the couch, not your neighbor’s chest,
  • You count your toes each and every time you see your feet–in case a digit has somehow been lost since the last time you checked,
  • You realize you are entirely more human than you want to be and just can’t change the past no matter how often you replay it in your head.

This weekend, my family came to visit from states far and wide. Together, we reminisced. Hilarious childhood memories abounded, long-dormant quirks were revealed and new moments were forever burned into our collective soul.

I won’t tell you which of the above I am guilty of. Just know that I am capable of stirring up a commotion wherever I go. And so should our characters.

As a reader, my new favorite character is Dante Walker by Victoria Scott. He’s a bad boy who feels so real that I literally LOL when he talks. Miss Scott has nailed his personality–full of elevated self-worth, harsh judgments and acid wit. If I weren’t happily married with four kids and three dogs, I just might be tempted to call him up for a date.

Dante, as portrayed by his creator, is unabashedly himself. He’s not wishy-washy. Rather, he’s fully engaged in who he is, what he does and why he does it. He takes human foibles to a whole new level and reeks of a charisma so potent I can’t stop the pitter-pattering of my heart.

I fell in love all over again with my three wonderful siblings this weekend as we sat on the bed at 11:30 at night and tried on each other’s glasses to see who was more blind. They/we are goofy, fun-loving, serious, smart, quirky, strange, hilarious and utterly teasable.

As a writer, I can only hope to fill up my novels with such depth and character as was shared in a few short hours. Because truly, being human is downright amazing on so many levels. Capturing that magic and bringing it to our readers is an art.

Dear Readers: who is your favorite character now-a-days and why?

Dear Writers: how do you capture the essence of a character and write him in such a way he comes alive?

Curious minds want to know.

Painting Characters with Voice and Personality

While preparing for Eldest’s graduation, we’re painting over the fingerprints, shoe scuffs and general grime that accumulates over the years.  Picking out colors isn’t always easy to do.  Colors deepen and change as the bright morning light falls into the  shadows of night, and not all the colors we love look good when painted side by side.

We paint our walls to evoke emotional satisfaction.  The laundry room is bright and cheerful or subtle and soothing–a nod to the torturous chore of washing clothes and a firm attempt to cheer the laundry person up.  Bedrooms induce sleep.  Kitchens sparkle.  Living rooms wrap around us like a cocoon, making us feel at home.

As writers, we paint our characters in the same way.  We provide them with a personality and a voice.  We paint them soothing or sensitive or joyous or angry.  We give them distinct colors to portray an individual that readers can love or hate, root for or fear, cry over or rejoice in their demise.  In essence, we paint an emotional connection between our characters and our audiences.

And like a freshly painted room, we need to accessorize to create robust, multifaceted characters.  A red hand towel in an earth tone bathroom to energize us.  Flowing curtains in a boldly painted room to highlight the softer side of life.  A jock who listens to classical music, or a religious police officer who turns to God and not the stereotypical bottle.

All this while keeping in mind that colors change and deepen as the day goes on.  All this while keeping in mind that characters deepen and change as the novel goes on.

What kind of painter are you, deliberate or impulsive?  How do you consciously paint characters with distinct voices and personalities?  How do you show the deepening of characterization as your novel progresses? 

Think about your current manuscript’s MC: what color is s/he?  Was this purposeful on  your behalf?  If you added a splash of color, what would it be and why?  If your MC is rainbow-colored, does s/he feel chaotic?  Can you tone her/him down?  Should you?

Curious minds want to know.

 

Psychological Writing Series: Loyalty

Loyalty: the last character trait and personality quirk I’ll throw at you–for now.

As I child, our frequent moves resulted in me being the “new kid” more often than not.  Because of this, I learned to leave friendships with relative ease.  It was a survival skill that has a backlash into my adulthood.

Don’t get me wrong, I adore my friends.  Relationships are extremely important to me and I enjoy the company of others.  I’m a people person in many ways.  I would do anything within my power for my friends and would suffer their greatest woes if I could.  However, when it’s time to make the next move, I can disconnect so completely that it’s downright scary.

I hate to think this quirk, forced on me by childhood events to protect myself from the pain of loss, makes me less loyal than individuals who grew up in diapers alongside another. 

So what is loyalty?  By definition, it is a feeling of attachment, responsibility, devotion or duty.  It is the state of being loyal.

But what, exactly, does this mean?

In literature, we adore loyal characters and feel betrayed when our beloved literary friends walk out on one another.  We tend to view them as having no virtue.  Yet nowhere in any definition of loyalty did I find a stated length of devotion, attachment or sense of duty. 

In dictionaries across the web (and even the huge, hard-bound, blue one of my childhood) loyalty is defined in terms of intensity rather than duration.

Christopher Robin is a devoted, loving and supportive friend to the Hundred Acre Wood crew–until he grows up and leaves behind his make-believe world.  The fact that he eventually leaves behind these friendships does not diminish the intensity of his loyalty at the time.

On the flip-side, Pooh would have given every last bit of fluff for Christopher even after CR left the woods.  Pooh’s devotion extended above and beyond his friend’s need.  Yet both of these characters would be considered loyal almost to a fault. 

In THE HUNGER GAMES, Peeta is fiercely loyal to Katniss and puts himself at great risk to keep her safe.  Katniss, on the other hand, is driven by her will to survive and keep her promise to her little sister–the one who own’s Katniss’s loyalty.  As much as I adored Katniss in this book, she was not loyal to Peeta.  Not emotionally, anyways. 

She cared about and for him, but Peeta never earned Katniss’s unfailing emotional devotion.  Instead, he incited her strong sense of responsibility based on her own guilt.  By definition this is still loyalty and yet it feels sullied to me.  Not pure.  Maybe because there was motivation behind her sense of duty and love.

Dissecting the relationship between Peeta and Katniss makes me question the reasons behind our friendships and the way we attach meaning to loyalty.  As readers and writers, we extend our own values onto another’s intentions.

We declare that someone can’t possibly be loyal if they walk away.  But what if walking away is the right thing to do to best protect and love the one we are devoted to?  We diminish an individual’s value as a loyal friend if they hurt us in some way.  Yet I’ve never read anywhere that hurting someone breaches loyalty.  In fact, I’m sure I hurt my Dear Hubby every day and I’m fiercely loyal to him.  In the same way, we brush away loyalty that comes out of necessity and not love.

But loyalty is how an individual feels.  Not always how those feelings manifest themselves physically.  At least in my humble opinion.

What is yours?   Does the reason behind loyalty matter?  How does the duration of a relationship impact the sense of loyalty one feels?  Are there degrees of loyalty based on the type of relationship people share?  Is one motive more acceptable than others?

Curious minds want to know.

Psychological Writing Series: Integrity

My absolute favorite quote comes from William Backus.  In TELLING EACH OTHER THE TRUTH, he writes:

“The concept behind personal integrity is wholeness. When a person is the same without as within, when what others know about him is the same truth he knows about himself, he has integrity.”
 
I love the poetry of these words and the very clear message they send.  Personal integrity is acting out what you believe and believing what you do.  It is honesty at its finest.
 
As a child, I distinctly remember The Summer.  The one where I got caught snarking behind someone’s back.  My sister and I were visiting rellies.  Our aunt and uncle took us to visit extended family on the other side of the relations. 
 
We’d done it before and I loved the experience.  Okay, I loved the bologna sandwiches my uncle’s dad made.  He put lettuce in them and it rocked my socks off.  What I didn’t love was my uncle’s little sister.  For the life of me, I can’t remember why.  Likely it was me being a booger and not through any fault of her own. 
 
Yet, this didn’t stop me from complaining about her to my sister–in private.  I guess I didn’t realize that hiding behind a camper in the dark wasn’t private, because my aunt over-heard and I got my rear end chewed.
 
I learned a valuable lesson that day.  If you don’t have the guts to say something to the person’s face, you have no business saying it at all.  Apparently I hadn’t taken Thumper’s mom seriously and needed to learn this through my own embarrassment and humiliation.
 
Integrity.  Who am I and does the inside match the outside?
 
Lack of integrity is probably the easiest conflict we can give our characters.  Learning it through the events of a story can help our characters change and grow.  Losing it can create more conflict than we have imaginations to capture on paper.
 
INTEGRITY QUESTIONS TO PONDER
  • Can a person have integrity and still be villainous, or does integrity always mean being good?
  • Do you agree with Mr. Backus and his definition of integrity?  If not, how would you change it?
  • Can you compromise your integrity and still have it?
  • What if you are better on the inside than you show the world?  If these two don’t match, can you still be considered as having integrity?  What if the opposite is true?
  • And does it really matter if you truly have integrity or just fake it?

I like the idea of wholeness in the characters I write.  It gives me boundaries to work with so I know how they will react much of the time.  For example: my current chapter book MC only believes in the facts.  Whimsy has no place in her life.  Therefore, when she’s asked a question, her answer is always the unadulterated truth.   Makes it easy for me as a writer…not so easy for her to live with the consequences.

In my young adult novel, my MC had ideals about who she was.  They didn’t match with what she showed the real world.  Striving to reach this place in her life drove her to seek painful answers.  Her desire for integrity (and self-preservation) motivated her. 

Likewise, the antagonist in my YA exuded a smooth exterior, yet was hideous on the inside.  To make his nasty deeds ring true, I had to show small fissures in his exterior all the way through.  The hints were subtle, but there.  In this way, readers are more willing to accept the outcome.

Good, bad or indifferent, writers must maintain consistency in their characters’ behavior.  By keeping in mind the wholeness that comes along with integrity, we can create strong characters with depth.  Also, when we challenge their personal integrity, we can ramp up the conflict within our stories on an internal level that rivals any external difficulties our characters may face.

How do you use integrity to create physical conflict for your characters?  How do you challenge your character’s inner sense of integrity?  What literary examples do you have of characters with strong integrity? 

Lastly, can a good character lack integrity?

Curious minds want to know.

Meet and Greet Your Characters

Our high school senior class graduated on Sunday.  Eldest Son’s Girl Friend was among the cap and gown wearers.  After the ceremony, we attended her graduation party.

It was the first time I truly felt old.  As in meet-the-significant-other’s-parents old.  As in, this meeting could potentially impact Eldest and Girl Friend’s lives if they stayed together.  If we made a bad impression on Sunday (we might have) and these two walk the aisle in the future…well, we’ve all heard horror stories on what that looks like.

But the point isn’t whether they will tie the knot (good Lord, Eldest is only 16) or break up tomorrow.  The point is that meeting people can change the course of lives.

Yep, meeting people can change the course of lives.

As in, who your MC meets during the course of a  novel should impact your MC’s journey and the outcome of the story.  If it doesn’t, those characters have no business populating the pages.

Harsh, I know, but true.  There just isn’t enough time on paper to have superfluous meet and greets. 

How do your close encounters layer your stories?  Do the relationships your MC’s have change and grow–for better or worse–as the novel progresses?  Are you using them to your full advantage?

Curious minds want to know.