Characterization Part 3

Characterization Part 3

By Natalie Bright


From last week, did you develop a history and family chart for your character? Next, let’s dig even deeper and consider how their life experiences might influence their actions and responses to the conflict in your plot.

The Power of Control

When you get right down to it, I think people throughout the world and through time have experienced the same emotions. Being human means we have the ability to practice self-control and we cover our genitals (and there are always exceptions). Fictional characters would draw on those same emotions. They’d also be influenced by traits of their experiences, both past and present.

Author Steven James talked about the power of control in a main character in a special session at OWFI con in Oklahoma City. Self-control and silence are remarkable traits for the hero. “Heroes don’t back down,” he said. Stillness, silence, body stance, and a slow response can evoke power. Would 007 ever run from the room screaming like a girl? Through internal dialogue, your main character may be having a total meltdown but on the outside the villain only sees calm and control. This makes an intense scene for the reader.

Develop the Differences

reflect on the differences for your protag and antag, and then take everything to the next level for fictional characters. For example, consider the Texas Panhandle where I live. A visitor from Florida commented how busy everyone is here. She said we’re always going somewhere to do something, evidenced by our recurring reference of “fixin’ to”.  She told me that people in Florida don’t seem to be that busy at doing anything or even making plans. Her comment surprised me in that the differences would even be that noticeable.

We’ve seen this a hundred times; a character is put into a new situation, a new city, or a different world in which their normalcy is now outside the norm, and often times extremely strange.  Develop the differences.

I remember talking to a group of Chinese college students who were amazed that they could drive outside of town to where there were no people.  They were shocked to drive down a dirt road to our home and not meet another car. At the time, they lived in apartments owned by my in-laws and they would ask the strangest questions, “Who gave you permission to buy this building.” “How were you assigned to this land?” “Who tells you how many cattle you can own?” They couldn’t comprehend that my husband managed property he actually owned, which he was capable of repairing and leasing to people of his choosing. The idea that families could own grassland and decide how many cattle the land will support was an unbelievable concept to these exchange students. To me, being assigned an apartment and having a job which I didn’t choose seems just as strange.

What If

I love meeting new people and learning about their lives. Aren’t humans fascinating? Fictional characters can be just as enthralling. Dig deeper to determine the differences between your heroes and villains and then make them larger than life. Create conflict. Utilize both external and internal issues and build intensity with emotion.

As the character dynamics swirl around in your head and as you consider the “what if”, you’ll come away with a ton of conflict for your plot line based on the feelings and desires of your characters. Once you really know your fictional creations, you can let them take you on their journey.

Bestselling author Jodi Thomas pointed out, “Characters are interesting only to the extent that they grate on each other.”

Have fun and Keep writing!

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