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Characterization: An Introduction

When you walk away from a really excellent book, what you remember is the POV (point of view) character. If you’re seeing the story through Katie’s eyes, you’ll probably grow to love (or hate) Katie. You’ll connect with her, one way or the other.

About Those Characters…

Your characters shouldn’t be picture perfect. In fact, they should have the usual number of flaws. You, the author, must share their weaknesses as well as strengths. Creating real/believable characters is key to writing awesome books and short stories. And it’s possible to use the same creative approach we’ve talked about in other lessons.

You have to think of your character (primary or otherwise) like an onion. He has multiple layers.

What the reader sees on the outside isn’t necessarily what he gets. For example, a female character might look practically perfect in every way on the outside, but once that outer layer is peeled off, you see that she’s in a difficult marriage, or abuses prescription drugs or alcohol because she’s secretly dealing with unresolved issues going back to her childhood.

If you dig a bit deeper, you might find that she’s struggling to maintain her status among her friends/peers, always feeling she has to put the best foot forward. In other words, she doesn’t know how to just “be herself” so she puts forth an image—a false image. To further complicate the matter, she’s just been thrust into a situation where she’s most vulnerable.

Dig a little deeper and you might find that she grew up with a perfectionist mother and/or an absent father. Everything in her little world had to be perfect—at least in the eyes of her parents. And nothing she ever did was good enough. So, why, as an adult, does she keep trying? Well, that’s another layer of characterization.

Examine her motives, her thought processes, her trials and errors. Let her make mistakes—big ones. In front of people who don’t realize she’s flawed. Then take her to a place where she receives healing for the things in the past—and the present. Let the “real” her come out.

Let’s start by looking at characters you love.

Name a favorite character from a movie. What’s so endearing about him/her? Can you think of a particular movie where the entire story seemed to hinge on one unforgettable character (Example: Gone with the Wind/Scarlet O’Hara) Was this a “complex” character? How many layers are we talking?
Do you appreciate him/her more because of the complexity?

What a character!

There’s much to learn about characterization. Editors will sit up and take notice when you give them characters with depth. So, let’s get busy creating POV characters worthy of loving. . .or hating.

Forge ahead with more lessons from Free Writing to learn more about how to develop characters your readers won’t forget.

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