Writing Tips & Tools

Friday, August 17, 2007

Lesson 31: Character Delineation

by Bonnie Calhoun

Today we continue with Donald Maass' Writing a Breakout Novel.

What I am going to endeavor to do here is present truncated versions of each of the lessons in the workbook. This will by no means suffice as an alternative to reading the book...or the workbook. I hope it piques your appetite to buy the books. They are invaluable reading and reference!

Today's lesson is in Section THREE: Character Delineation.

Having sharpened the POV's you have chosen for your novel, it is now time to take the next step and make sure that your characters sound, act, and think differently from each other. That's the business of character delineation.

How are your characters different from one another? In your mind, I'm sure they are quite different, but how is that specifically conveyed to your readers? Use a chart to create separate vocabularies, traits, actions, and more for your characters. You will be surprised how much more individual they become.

Step 1: Create a chart in a spread sheet program like Excel. Write down the first column: sofa, bureau, dress, pants, shoes, auto, soda, coffee, alcohol, cash, "Hello", "Cool", "Oh well", God, mother, father, partner/spouse, man, woman, attractive, unattractive, music, periodical. Now in the next three columns to the right place a POV character at the top. Down each column fill in the character's word for the one you've listed.

Note: You can make the list as long as you want. The point is to find each characters voice.

Follow-up: for each POV character give them unique traits, gestures, rationalizations, peeves, hot buttons etc.

Conclusion: Have you ever read a novel where all the characters sounded the same? That's weak POV writing. Strong POV is more than just the words, even cadence and sentence structure will be different. Make your characters different just as people are different!


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