Characterization Part 5

Characterization Part 5

By Natalie Bright


I’m reviewing my notes from past conferences and blogging about characterization. Please feel free to comment on any tips you’ve learned on developing believable and likable characters. The past few blogs have been a hodge-podge on all concepts of developing characters. We’re digging deeper again this week, because really, you just can’t know enough about your characters.

Have you completed a character questionnaire yet? There are tons of great examples on the web.

Keep Digging Deeper

What is the one unique component of literature that humans enjoy? The key that all writers strive for? The take-away that readers can take pleasure in?

The answer: emotion.

We can read a story and find joy or fear. We can laugh out loud at the antics of a main character, or we can weep for concern at their plight. The power of the written word is an amazing thing.

As a writer, we must dig deeper. You have your character’s profile and you know their attitudes. As Steven James said, “What are your characters passionate about, desire, most ashamed about, afraid to pursue? Now give them what they want the most and snatch it away. Dangle her heart’s desire in front of her and never let her have it.”

Finding Emotion

We’re just human, with human emotions and life experiences. Real life events of experiencing or observing provides the basis from which our characters emerge.

How can your character respond to death unless you draw upon your experiences in being at someone’s bedside when they passed? How can your character experience love lost unless you weep as you write it? How can you write about the power of indifference without drawing upon your own past? Even if you haven’t experienced the emotion, then you can probably find someone who has.

Authors can’t be sissy’s about this. We have to go there. We have to revisit those painful experiences again and convey them to our readers through the fictional characters we create. I’m not saying it has to be the exact same experience, but you can apply the emotions you’ve felt to fictional situations. As your heroine meets those challenges and overcomes the obstacles, this becomes the character arc.

Developing the Character Arc

Character arc is defined as the emotional problems through which the protagonist (and antagonist and sometimes secondary characters) must face to achieve their goal. 

As bestselling author Steven James points out, “At the heart of every story is tension, and tension is that unmet desire which includes both external and internal.” As your character tries to achieve that desire and overcomes the antagonist, they change, they grow, they become better for their experiences. You must dig past the surface elements of your story and determine the why

Some of the most common arcs are: going from emotionally dead to being emotionally alive, learn to accept other’s faults, overcome a fear, learn to take risks, overcome guilt, learn to accept his own faults; and the list can go on and on. These are most obvious in movie screenplays where characters struggle with some emotional dilemma that is resolved at the end regardless of the action going on around them.

More Conflict Please

In order to dig deeper, Jodi Thomas suggests all dialogue reflect some type of conflict. “It’s not necessarily a conflict between the two characters speaking. One could be having internal conflict while they’re saying something else,” Thomas says.

Author Jennifer Talty explained that, “conflict is the fuel that starts your story. The internal motivation of your character is the fuel that drives your story.” 

As the core conflict between the protag and antag increases, the internal emotional conflict escalates and becomes your character’s arc.

For more information, Goal Motivation Conflict by Deb Dixon is an excellent addition for your writer’s reference library.

Have fun and keep writing!



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