Characterization Part 6
by Natalie Bright
I’m ending my series on tips for developing fictional characters with a recommendation of a useful reference tool that you might consider for your writer’s library.
“Before I write down one word, I have to have the character in my mind through and through. I must penetrate into the last wrinkle of his soul.” HENRIK IBSEN, playwright and poet
Best Tip Ever on Characterization
I’ve spent the past month pouring over conference notes in search of tidbits I’ve learned about characterization (click on my name, Natalie Bright, at right and scroll through previous posts on Characterization).
I hope you’ve found the information useful. The best technique that I’ve used over and over, unfortunately I can’t remember where I heard it or who said it, but it has stuck in my mind and I’ve never forgotten:
Use at least one of your character’s traits in every scene.
Show, don’t tell, through dialogue or actions.
Now that you’ve completed a character profile relating to social and family issues that may have influenced your character, no matter how subtle, let’s take a look at personality traits. This is where we can dig even deeper and get to know our character better than anyone. You may not use hardly any of your characters’ background that you’ve developed, however I’ve learned that we should know it so that your character will stay in character throughout your book.
There are many useful tools to aid you in developing fictional characters, both on the web and in print. I’ve invested in several. The most useful book that I keep referring to again and again is 45 MASTER CHARACTERS by Victoria Lynn Schmidt.
Character archetypes are emotions, ideas, and actions that reveal the details about personality. As Schmidt points out, these basic archetypes have been around for centuries and can be found in mythology, movie screenplays, and literature.
One of the unique things about this book is the examples based on legendary heroes and Hollywood block busters. If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll recognize the character archetype immediately.
‘The Protector’ is Han Solo. The villainous side of ‘The Woman’s Man’ for example, is the ‘Seducer’ best portrayed by Count Dracula. The book breaks down traits into female and male, as well as supporting characters. And although the information tends to lean towards human relationships and developing love interests, the traits can be applied to characters of all ages which is why I find it a useful tool in developing characters even if they’re children.
As an Example
I’m working on a middle grade historical novel set in 1870. My two main characters are a frontier kid, Ben, and a Comanche kid, Wolf. Obviously the conflict is a given for the time period; Texan against Comanche. So how can I add even more conflict?
Because Ben’s father has just died and left him with a momentous task to complete, this kid feels the weight of the world on his shoulders. He is serious, focused, and acts much older than his age. He’s worked all of this life, and to him, life is drudgery, endless days of work, and hardships with little emotion or joy. Referring to 45 MASTER CHARACTERS, “The Businessman” seems to fit this character the best. The book provides specifics as to what he might care about such as fears, motivations, and the best pairing for that character. The ‘villainous’ section for each archetype gives you traits to make your hero well rounded. He needs some bad habits too.
As I study Ben’s personality, I consider someone who would bring the most conflict for him. Based on the book, ‘The Fool’ seems to fit Wolf. The archetype name is not in reference to his intelligence, because this Indian brave is very smart. He’s a free-spirit and loves to have fun. Others see him as unpredictable. Ben and Wolf begin their journey as bitter enemies, but come together as friends. Based on their personalities, can you imagine the conflict and trouble they might create for each other?
A Place to Begin
Schmidt’s book is by no means an exact literal guide to your characters. It’s a place to start, and as you write, your characters will develop even more and surprise you with their reactions.What are some of the most useful tools you’ve found when developing your fictional characters?
Next week’s topic: Motivation. Just keep writing! And thanks for following WordsmithSix…