Tuesday, January 22, 2008

On Writing: Characterization

In fiction, what makes for good characterization? There are as many answers to this question as there are readers. Let’s face it – we all have our personal preferences.

I write character-driven fiction. Meaning, the things that happen in the stories I write are determined in a large part by the characters themselves. Their quirks, their foibles, their dreams, their fears, their love, their loathing, their arrogance, their denials. I have to know the inner worlds of all of my characters in order to know how they will react to a given catalyst. The forks they choose determine the next stop along the road, which presents a new set of choices, then another, and another. Infinite possibilities.

Other authors will tell you they write plot-driven tales into which they drop a very carefully selected character. Neither method is better than the alternative. It all depends on what works for the author in question.

Whichever method you choose, it’s important to remember one thing about the characters you are creating: in another world—their world, however fictional—they are real. Or they should be. They have lives that revolve around them, lives filled with people they like, people they love, and people who rub them the wrong way for oh-so-many-reasons. They have hopes for their future, dreams they have forgotten, and regrets that run too deep to be forgotten so easily. Early in her adult years, a woman might be in a maiden stage of her life, where love and the mating game rules her thoughts. The men she chooses to tarry with reflect back upon her, how she feels about herself and the way she fits into the world. Or perhaps she moves quickly into the mother stage, where nurturing and taking responsibility for those around her takes all of her time and energy. Is she married, and if so, what kind of man did she choose as her lifemate? Is he strong and protective, willing to risk life and limb and personal dreams in order to support his family? Or is he still stuck in a rut {pun intended, heh}, playing reindeer games best left to those without ties? What paths do they choose, together and separately? How do they relate to those around them, and why? Or perhaps your female lead is moving into the crone years. Her nest is empty of any children she’s raised, and her life might now be stretching before her. Is it filled with possibilities, or do her regrets swell to unbearable levels? Has her marriage stood the test of time, or is she alone, and how does she feel about it? Is she watching the world pass her by and wondering why she can’t fall into step, too? Or is she making her own way, taking time for herself, dreaming again the dreams she might have set aside?

So many possibilities.

As for me, the characters that whisper their tales in the night are why I am a writer. Their lives intrigue me enough to want to find out what happens next. Some characters are like best friends, others make me roll my eyes. The actions of a few make me cringe, while others make me want to shake my head and gnash my teeth. But always, their humanity is what I find most fascinating.

So, yeah. Paint mine in bright colors, please. Make them laugh. Make them cry. Make them rejoice. Make them regret. Make them happy, sad, reluctant, zealous, driven, alcoholic, workaholic, commitment-phobic, animal loving, meat-eating, nookie addicted, shopping frenzied, bill worried, what have you...

Just make ‘em real.

Love to all,

Mad {madly!}

1 comment:

AZ said...

This was fascinating. It's so wonderful to see an author as a real person with all sorts of this and that in her life. The little peek at your inner life was a treat!