Writing Tips & Tools

Monday, October 01, 2007

Lesson #4 - Characterization

by Bonnie Calhoun

Today we are continuing editing lessons from the book Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King.

These lessons will be shortened overviews of the chapters and by no means should be a substitute for buying the book. I'm rereading but not posting a lot of good stuff!

Today we're going to work on characterization and Exposition.

A lot of writers seem to feel they have to give their readers a clear understanding of a new character before they can get on with their story. They never bring a character onstage without a brief personality summary. Or else they introduce their character with flashbacks to the childhood scenes that made them who they are...In effect, psychoanalyzing the characters for their readers.

It's often a good idea to introduce a new character with enough physical description for your readers to picture him or her. As with describing your settings, all you need are a few concrete, idiomatic details to jump-start your readers' imagination. ("A good-looking man in his fifties," for instance, is too vague to be interesting.)

The show-and-tell principle underlies many of the self-editing points we'll talk about from now on!

Another reason to avoid thumbnail character sketches is that the personality traits you tell us about when you introduce a character will (we would hope) eventually be shown by the way the character behaves in the story.

Also when you sum up your characters, you risk defining them to the point that they're boxed in by the characterization with no room to grow. You may be setting boundary lines that your readers will use to interpret your characters' actions through the rest of the book.

But if you allow your readers to get to know your characters gradually, each reader will interpret them in his or her own way, thus getting a deeper sense of who your characters are than you could ever convey in a summary.

Finally, for today...Sketching out your characters for your readers is just plain obtrusive. It's a form of telling that is almost certain to make your readers aware that you the writer are hard at work!


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