"Wherever men have lived there is a story to be told." Henry David Thoreau

Monday, January 26, 2009

Structuring Your Novel: Characterization

Our plot ideas come from a multitude of sources and are sparked by many things. Oftentimes, the germ of the idea that sets our plot into motion is forgotten as the idea grows. But whatever gets your plot idea moving, always remember, you characters make your story. Good characterization can even hold together a weak plot.

You should know your characters as well as you do your spouse, your children, your siblings--maybe even better. You may never get to tell the reader everything you know about your characters, but the more you know, the more successful you'll be at creating well-rounded people. And in the course of the writing, many of the small details that you know about a character will be revealed through dialogue, action, and interaction. They might even become major factors in the plot.

Working out an outline will enable you to do this, and a good place to start is by drawing up a character sketch of each person. Ask yourself everything you possibly can about a character. Question yourself about his childhood, family, past, previous romances, experiences, desires, goals, likes, and dislikes. Determine what he would do in certain situations.

Unless the character is schizophrenic, his/her behavior and basic motivation should be consistent throughout the book. People in real life aren't always like this, but generally speaking, you can take someone you know very well and determine exactly what his/her reaction will be to any given situation. You should be able to do this with your characters, too.*


COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL: *From my 1992 RWR article: "The Outline: Your Blueprint for a Structurally Sound Plot."


asabourova said...

Great info. As a person who regularly writes about "crazy" people, though, I'd like to point out that even crazies have consistent behavior (for them). Schizophrenics will be motivated and driven by paranoia. Folks with multiple personality disorder will have a consistent set of character traits... for each personality. Bipolar people will also have consistent traits depending on if they're up or down. Etc. I guess what I'm trying to say, is that you're dead on with this article. A writer should know the ins and outs of every character. Even the crazies. :)

Linda Sandifer said...

Very good point, asabourova. Thanks!

B.J. Anderson said...

Love this article. Such wonderful information here for any type of writer. You should do a workshop or something at a conference!