Monday, January 17, 2011

Make It Better Monday: Characterization

Posted a little late, due to the holiday. Enjoy!

Last week, we discussed show versus tell or using scenes instead of narrative summary. Today, we're going to build on that a little bit.

When it comes to characters, you want the best thing that you can deliver. We want people to relate to them, to see them like we do. And because of this, it is really hard to hold back on the details. We want to tell our readers about everything, all at once, so that they can appreciate the character in the same way that we have learned to. Our characters live for us and they should live for other people too.

The way to do this is to build upon the concept of showing. Sure, we can go in and describe the character in one paragraph, tell their history in the next, and continue in this pattern. The infodump. A reader will know a lot about your character, but they won't know your character. There won't be any attachment, any concern, any interest in what happens to that character.

Instead, scatter details through the narrative. As a reader, I want to get to know the characters in the same way that I would get to know any one I meet for the first time. In that first meeting, I might notice what they look like and maybe some of their characteristics, their tics. I won't know how they feel about their mother, why they like the color green, what they're going to do tomorrow. I discover those things as I get to know someone over time. And that is how we connect to a character in a book.

To help us know what a character is like, we use showing on a small scale. Motivations and emotions are shown through the use of scenes. We let the reader infer information about the character, as much by what we say and how we say it as by what we withhold.

Tomorrow, we'll have an example of the infodump and one of the natural unfolding. Stay tuned!

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