When I wrote my #FixYourNovel #4: Characterization, Part 1 blog post for February 17, 2020, I planned to post Part 2 the following Monday. Life happened, though, and some medical issues forced me to hold off on Part 2 until today. Here’s the link to Part 1, in case you missed it or wish to refresh your memory: https://janetswritingblog.com/2020/02/17/fixyournovel-4-characterization-part-1/.
If you are bored stiff by the subject, just scroll down to the end of today’s post to find out what I’m currently reading.
As I did in Part 1, today I’ll share what two or three writers, writing coaches, or editors have to say about characterization. I hope readers and writers will find something of interest in my two characterization blog posts.
I’ve read a lot about how to develop memorable characters when writing fiction. As I read what other writers, or book coaches and editors have to say about characterization, I try to determine what the best advice is so I can put it into practice as I work on my historical novel.
Book coach Andrea Lundgren’s take on happiness in novels
In her October 7, 2019 guest post on A Writer’s Path, https://ryanlanz.com/2019/10/07/what-does-it-mean-to-write-about-happiness/, book coach Andrea Lundgren observed that novels rarely show characters in a state of happiness. Maybe there’s a flashback to a time they were happy, but the reader doesn’t see the character having a happy moment.
Ms. Lundgren suggests something that goes against the grain of accepted fiction writing advice. She stated the following in that guest post:
“Do we dare take time out, for them and us, to just enjoy life as it flows by, without making the scene “keep things moving forward”?
Ms. Lundgren continued:
“And does happiness only occur in little moments, in the troughs between peaks of activity when no one is doing or demanding or announcing anything? Maybe we need to start plotting for filler scenes, where nothing happens but that exchange of dialogue and silence that is a normal, happy moment of life.”
That resonated with me. Writing experts put a lot of pressure on authors to evaluate every scene and, if it doesn’t move the story forward, delete it. In connection with Ms. Lundgren’s post, it seems to me that having an occasional scene in which your character is just relaxing with a friend or enjoying an event might help that character seem more human and more likeable. And in that way, does that scene not in some small way move the story forward?
Editor and author David Griffin Brown’s take on character
Writing as a creative guest on The Creative Penn website on August 2, 2019, https://www.thecreativepenn.com/2019/08/02/writing-tips-creating-memorable-characters/, David Griffin Brown gives tips on writing memorable and compelling characters.
Mr. Brown opens his article with this: “Fiction editors encounter manuscripts at all stages of development. A typical issue we see in early drafts is where one narrative element is given more attention than another.
“For example, with works of historical fiction, it’s common for writers to showcase their research at the expense of plot and character. On the other hand, with a character piece, the plot often drags in the second act. And in high-paced, sharply plotted thrillers, characterization can lag behind plot development.
“That being said, most manuscripts will benefit from close attention to character conflict, motivation, and relationships. But first and foremost, it’s important to let your characters act, react, and interact.”
Mr. Brown goes on to talk about emotions, conflict, and personal relationships between characters. He talks about the king of all fiction-writing rules: Show, don’t tell.
Chris Andrews’ take on character and structure
In his book, Character and Structure: An Unholy Alliance, Australian fantasy quthor Chris Andrews writes about the importance of (or possibly, necessity of) getting your reader emotionally invested in your story or novel. He writes that you must make the reader care.
Mr. Andrews’ book says, “Applying character to structure is an unholy alliance as far as many writers are concerned. Doing it well is the foundation of creating a long and successful career.” He says if a writer gives in to his or her preference – character vs. structure – one will dominate and the other will suffer. A character must have a logical structure to work within.
Mr. Andrews writes, “You have to be able to develop, write and evaluate a story from both sides of your brain: logic and emotion…. Combining story (what happens to your characters) and structure (how it happens) means finding the answers emotionally engage your audience.”
I like the following short paragraph in Mr. Andrews’ book:
“Characters are about people, not events. Structure is how you tailor events so your audience can engage with your characters.”
Mr. Andrews’ book is one of the best books I’ve read about the craft of writing. He takes you step-by-step through the structure of a novel and how your protagonist should grow and change within that structure in order for your novel to engage your readers and be memorable for them.
I read Chris Andrews’ book last September and I wrote about it in my September 30, 2019 blog post, https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/09/30/character-and-structure-by-chris-andrews/. His website is https://www.chrisandrews.me/.
Some new thoughts from Janice Hardy
In #FixYourNovel #4: Characterization, Part I, I referenced Janice Hardy. Her blog post on February 26, 2020 was titled, “Oh, Woe Is Me: Strengthening Character Goals.” Here the link to it, so you can read the entire blog post: http://blog.janicehardy.com/2010/05/oh-woe-is-me.html.
It’s about how a writer can make a novel’s protagonist’s life as difficult as possible. She gives lots of suggestions.
That was my inner response when I first encountered the term. In Part 1 of #FixYourNovel #4, I referred to character arc but didn’t address it.
A character arc is how a character changes over the course of a story or novel, but there’s so much more to it than that! People have written entire books on the topic of character arc. I read one in October: Creating Character Arcs: The Masterful Author’s Guide to Uniting Story Structure, Plot, and Character Development, by K.M. Weiland.
I highly recommend her book to others who, like me, are trying to master the art of writing fiction. The book addresses plot points, when your character arcs, minor character arcs, impact characters, and how to write a character arc in a series.
Throughout the writing process I’ve tried to keep in mind to make my characters distinguishable, but it’s time to revisit the question, “Are my characters distinguishable?”
By writing a biographical sketch for each character as I developed the basic bones of the plot for my novel in progress, tentatively titled The Spanish Coin or The Doubloon, I had a computer file containing details about each character. This was the place I made note of all distinguishable characteristics – everything from appearance, clothing, mannerisms, smell, occupation, world view, beliefs, background, family, and manner of speaking.
My hunch is that it is easier to write character biographical sketches before and as you write your novel, but it can be done after the fact. However you choose to do it, it’s a good idea to work through this step before hitting the “publish” button or submitting your manuscript to an editor, literary agent, or publisher.
I read that J.K. Rawlings spent five years writing the biographies of each of her characters before she started writing her Harry Potter series. Wow!
As you evaluate your novel’s manuscript, re-read each of your characters’ biographical sketches, every reference to them in your book, and all their dialogue. It’s time to beef-up those character traits and to check for consistency.
- Have you made your characters’ motives clear so their actions are logical?
- Did you reveal backstory a little at a time and sufficiently without doing an information dump?
- You don’t have a character telling another character something they already know, do you?
- Does your character have an arc and is it in the right place?
At this point, you might be saying, “It’s not enough for writers to invent characters? They must make each one distinguishable in appearance, actions, and speech; make them likable but not perfect; and make them memorable and compelling. Is that all?
No. A writer must also balance character, and plot, and setting. Characters must interact with one another. Characters must be believable. Characters must react to the circumstances in which they find themselves. They must have emotions. They must be motivated. Relationships and conflict are necessary; otherwise, there’s no story.
You see, there’s more to writing a novel than typing.
Until my next blog post
I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading Winter Garden, by Kristin Hannah.
If you’re a writer or other artist, I hope you have satisfying creative time.
Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog. If you like my blog, please tell you real friends and your social media friends about it.
Links to my #FixYourNovel blog posts #1, #2, #3, and #4 Part 1:
Let’s continue the conversation
Think back over the books you’ve read.
Which characters stand out in your mind and why?
Feel free to share as much or little as you want to in the comments below or on the social media I share this blog post on.
5 thoughts on “#FixYourNovel #4: Characterization, Part 2”
Very good information. You have provided the links, the references and the most important points. Very well written indeed! Thank you! I enjoyed it. I am interested in characterisation because that is how I paint, that is how I write poetry and how my thoughts develop when thinking about something I will paint or write about. For me, characters make or break the story. I guess because of my academic background, in Theatre Arts, I am more drawn to characters…
This was a great post, Janet, thank you!
Thank you, Francisco, for your thoughtful comments. I hadn’t thought about how an artist used characterization. I guess that’s basic, but I hadn’t thought about it in that way. Very interesting. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the subject, and thanks for the compliment!
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Always a pleasure Janet, you are very welcome.
I think that as important as getting the reader emotionally involved in the story (an obvious need) is getting them involved with you, the author, , and dong so quickly.The frst pleasure the reader is seking is a reading eancounter with an author with a vital, quick, llively, intelligent, clever mind that excites them. If you don’t have one of those sell paint for a living.
Thank you for the post, Janet
Point well taken. Thank you for sharing your always helpful perspective. Stay well, David.