Are the characters distinguishable, what are their motives, and are their arcs in the right places?
I’ve been trying to get up the nerve to publish today’s blog post for months. Who am I to have the audacity to attack such a topic? I haven’t even published my first novel.
Perhaps I should have left #FixYourNovel #4: Characterization on the back burner until I had more writing experience. However, to be perfectly honest with you, I got tired kicking the can down the road. I got tired revamping my blog’s editorial calendar and shifting this topic further into the future.
I hope readers and writers will find something of interest in today’s post.
In my journey as a fiction writer, I’ve read about all aspects of the craft of writing. New articles and how-to books are published every day. It’s impossible to keep up.
Today’s blog post is a combination of the things I’ve read about characterization by people who know more about that skill than I do. It’s my job as an aspiring fiction author to wade through all the advice, discern what’s worth keeping, and try to put those gems into practice.
Author Kristin Lamb’s take on characters
I read a September 23, 2019 article by author Kristin Lamb several weeks ago and immediately added it to my resources list for today’s blog post. I love the title of Ms. Lamb’s article: “Characters: Audiences Read Stories, but Great Stories Read the Audience.” It pulled me right in. Her article can be found at https://authorkristenlamb.com/2019/09/characters-story-audience/.
Of course, I had to keep reading to find out what she meant. In a nutshell, Ms. Lamb said that every reader reads a book through their unique perspective. The character in a novel has “baggage,” but so does the reader. The reader brings her “baggage” with her but so does the reader. The reader brings her “baggage” with her into the story and that completes how an individual reader sees a character.
If there are three main characters in a novel and three people read it, it’s possible that each reader will identify with a different character due to the readers’ backgrounds and life experiences.
Also, I think “Great Stories Read the Audience” is an excellent way of saying a writer must know her target audience. I could try to write a novel that would appeal to everyone, but the finished product would probably appeal to no one.
Proofreader Louise Harnby’s take on characters
In https://www.louiseharnbyproofreader.com/blog/unveiling-your-characters-physical-description-with-style, Louise Harnby addresses how a writer needs to make her characters distinguishable. Some writers tell the reader what a character looks like or gives hints.
One method is to do what Ms. Harnby suggests: let the viewpoint character describe another character, but don’t let it sound like a description in a police report. The reader doesn’t need to know every detail of how a character looks. Tell what is different about a character. Give each character a distinguishing physical or personality trait.
Author, editor, and writing coach Lori Freeland’s take on characters
Something Lori Freeland says in her June 3, 2019 blog post, https://writersinthestormblog.com/2019/06/down-with-the-rules/, also addresses a method a writer can use when describing their characters. It’s a twist on bending or breaking the writing “rule” that says a character shouldn’t describe herself or himself.
Ms. Freeland writes, “Main characters can describe themselves if they do it right…. Go ahead. Put your character in front of a mirror. But make it a funhouse mirror that emphasizes her faults and grows them larger than life.”
In this blog post, Ms. Freeland also comments about motivation. A writer needs to tell the reader what motivates a character. This clarifies the story.
To quote Ms. Freeland, “The internal journey of your character is as crucial as the external journey.”
Australian Fantasy Author Douglas W.T. Smith’s take on characters
Douglas W.T. Smith wrote about characters, voice, and dialogue in his April 9, 2019 blog post, https://dwtsmith.wordpress.com/2019/04/09/five-ways-to-improve-your-characters-voice-and-dialogue/. He states something important about characters and dialogue: “Remember, if the dialogue doesn’t advance the plot, give insight into characters, or show relationships between characters, it should be deleted.”
Mr. Smith goes on to talk about how a writer can make characters distinguishable by giving each one a unique speech pattern or word choice. From there he reminds the aspiring writer that all dialogue in a novel should be necessary and should move the story forward; otherwise, it is unnecessary.
Some things are better told through narrative. Mr. Smith writes, “Use dialogue when it’s needed – when it will show relationships or reveal character or plot the way no other tool will.”
Back to Louise Harnby
Related to that last quote from Douglas W.T. Smith, is this comment Louise Harnby made in https://www.louiseharnbyproofreader.com/blog/writing-dialogue-and-thoughts-8-problems-and-how-to-fix-them: “Dialogue should be purposeful. If you’re using it to introduce information, have the characters seek answers to questions they don’t know the answers to. Unveil backstory that’s known to the speakers through the narrator, not the speech.”
Author and Writing Instructor Janice Hardy’s take on characters
Janice Hardy’s April 30, 2014 blog post, http://blog.janicehardy.com/2014/04/five-ways-to-create-likable-characters.html, is titled “Five Ways to Create Likable Characters.” This brings up a whole other aspect of characterization. As if making each character look and sound different from every other character weren’t enough, a novelist needs to make most of their characters likeable.
Ms. Hardy prefaces her list of five ways to create likable characters by cautioning writers not make the characters perfect. She says, “There’s a fine–and often moving–line between likable and perfect, which can make it difficult to create a well-balanced likable character.”
Ms. Hardy’s blog post goes into detail about how to make a character likable and how to make each character distinguishable, so please click on the link above and read her entire post if you want to learn more.
Until my next blog post
At my own risk, I’m announcing that my blog post next Monday will be a continuation of today’s. If the topic doesn’t interest you, please check in again in two weeks when I’ll write about some of the books I’ve read in February.
I hope you have a good book to read. I’m listening to The Long Petal of the Sea, by Isabel Allende while I’m partially-incapacitated with my fractured leg.
If you’re a writer or other artist, I hope you have quality creative time.
Thank you for reading my blog post. You have many things vying for your attention and time, so I appreciate the fact that you took time to read my blog today. I hope you’ll visit it every week to see what I’m up to.
Let’s continue the conversation
Do you prefer to read plot-driven novels or character-driven novels? If you’re a writer, which do you prefer to write?