Monday, August 4, 2008

Consistent Characterization

Characterization is SO important in your story. Unlike real life, a character should have reasons for their actions and their actions should line up with their personality. Slobs don't have neat bedrooms. Perfectionists won't throw their Burger King bag on the floor of their car. So when you write a scene, make sure the character is doing things consistent with their personality.
That goes for dialogue, too. Someone raised in Alabama will speak differently than a New Yorker. Not just in dialogue, but maybe in the way they view life. If your hero was raised tough, have him talk tough. Be consistent.
I always thought I was consistent. Until I won an editorial review.
Very few comments in the chapter, yet one was next to a paragraph of the hero. The editor wrote "inconsistent characterization". You could have knocked me over. I never saw it coming but it really turned on a light for me.
Now when I write I always wonder, would she do this? Would she say this? And would she really compare her attraction to the hero to what she feels for her toolbox?
Only if she's into tools.
This characterization thing can get fun, once you get the hang of it. For example, in one of my manuscripts the hero is a government agent in covert ops. This is back in the day, with the beginnings of the FBI. For fun, I had him inwardly compare the heroine's eyes as "shining like the stock of his favorite rifle". Well, not exactly like that, but close.
It still makes me laugh. Whenever it gets critiqued, if it's jarring, I'll take it out. But for now it's a part of his characterization, because he thinks in terms like that.

Whew, long post, huh?

So what's your favorite characterization tools? How do you decide what to use and what not?

4 comments:

Candi said...

Stock of a rifle? LOL. You must know my hubby!

I think Characterization for everyone can go askew at times. After all, our characters are only as real as our imagination. And which writer hasn't gone back over a scene and wondered who wrote it. Them or the character.

I think getting to know your char's is the most important for correct char emoitions actions, etc. Every nuance of the char your fleshing into a realistic, flawed human being makes them more real in your mind as well.

I know my h/h have done or said things that were completely me. Something I would do, or my mind in the writing zone decided was one of their traits or beleifs. It was so far from what I'd created for them that when I read it again it jarred even me.

When I decide on my motivations, actions, reactions, even down to their temper or views on life, I try to let my char become someone completely detached from me. Some of my h/h have characteristics I don't agree with, but it makes them...well them.

I love to go back and find area's where my char totally took over, basically writing the scene themselves. They always seem to be the best scenes. Go figure.

So let your char's do and say what they will as they live in your head. When you find those sections that you suddenly inserted your own mind dust...go back and clean it up.

Candi

Jessica said...

Hi Candi!
No, actually, I had to call my mom (she used to hunt with my stepdad) and ask her what the wooden part was called. lol
I try to detach from my characters too. In fact, Katrina in Bridegroom's Revenge is probably closest to me, but in her weaknesses. It almost makes me not like her except, in the end, I redeem her :-)
Anyways, thanks for sharing. I like how you mention looking your characters over later. I should do that. I bet it would help me see where they're being inconsistent.
Though, I did mean to add that sometimes a character should just bust out and do something crazy. But maybe once or twice, not every other chapter.
:-)
How're the kiddos? Ready for school?

tina gray said...

Great post as always, Jessica! A few years back when I first started writing, I bought a really great tool (computer program) for helping flesh out your characters. It's called Character Pro 5. Funny thing, I never even cracked it open until my ghost book, and now it's indispenable when I'm starting a new WIP. Basically, it's like interviewing your characters. That way, when you start writing, you already know them. Here's the link for a description or if you want to order it online: http://www.characterpro.com/characterpro/index.html

Julie Weathers said...

Good post, Jessica.

I think one of my strengths is unique characters. Even so, they sometimes do things that surprise me and I have to examine it to see if it's out of character for them or if they are reacting to something in their personality. If it's something they would do, I have to make sure the reader knows why they did it.

Yes, I confess, my characters have taken on very complete lives. sigh.