C is for Characterization

This is the third day of the 2017 A to Z Blog Challenge, so today’s post must have something to do with the letter “C.” Thinking in the realm of writing fiction, I settled on the word CHARACTERIZATION.

Characterization can be shown through narrative, dialogue, action, and reaction. All four should be used by a writer.

There are many things for a fiction writer to keep in mind in creating and fleshing out characters. My writing mentor from Queens University of Charlotte, Judy Simpson, said, “Don’t begin writing your story until you know all of the major characters.” I can’t remember if I followed that advice when I started writing The Spanish Coin manuscript 10 or more years ago. (There! I’ve said it! This has been a labor of love that I have worked on in spurts and fits, sometimes not touching it for more than a year at a time.) But I digress.

The famous mantra of writing instructors comes into play in characterization:  Show, don’t tell. Don’t tell the reader about a character. Reveal character details through what they say, how they say it, and what they do or don’t do.

Even though the writer might have in her notes a driver’s license description of each character (e.g., black male, brown eyes, black hair, six feet tall, 180 pounds) that is usually not the best way to introduce a character to your reader. Let those details (or just the ones that are pertinent) come out gradually and in subtle ways.

Every character has strengths and weaknesses. A “goody-two-shoes” character is boring and, let’s face it, offensive and irritating. Likewise, even the most heinous villain probably has some redeeming value.

Characters unnecessary to the story should be omitted. Related to that, a writer should not include minor characters early on in a novel because the reader might be misled and lose interest.

There is also the matter of choosing names for all the characters. Writing instructors caution beginning writers not to give two characters in the same short story or novel names that are similar. For instance, you might not want a Phil and a Phyllis in the same book.

I have struggled over the name of a free woman of color in The Spanish Coin. She was Rachel for a long time because I think Rachel is a beautiful name and it conjures up an image of a strong and elegant woman in my mind. I changed her name to Clarissa in honor of a woman of color who made a great impression on me while I was writing local history articles for a newspaper a decade ago. It will be interesting to see what the character’s name turns out to be in the final product.

Another consideration that must be taken into account, especially when writing historical fiction, is that the writer must make sure to give characters names appropriate to the time and place. For instance, you won’t find a Tammy or a Kevin in The Spanish Coin because those names were not used in 1771 in the Carolina backcountry.

Each character should have at least one distinguishing characteristic in order to help set an image in the reader’s mind. A character could have a foreign accent, a disfiguring physical feature, a hearing problem, a lisp, a limp, an annoying laugh, a mental illness, or a word or phrase that no one else says.

Who knew there were so many things to think about when giving a fictitious character a name?

Until my next blog post tomorrow

I hope you have a good book to read. (I seem to always have too many on my bedside table! One night they’re going to topple over and give me a concussion.) If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time.

Janet

2017 A to Z Challenge Badge
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4 thoughts on “C is for Characterization

  1. “Characters unnecessary to the story should be omitted.” – I couldn’t agree with this enough. I just read a book that had too many unnecessary characters and it made the reading experience frustrating.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comment. I fear I have too many characters in the novel I’m self-editing now. I’m eager to see what my writing coach thinks when I send it to her. I might need to get rid of one of my “darlings.”

      Like

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