Characterization: Giving life to words

Characterization is a very important part of writing in my opinion. In fact, next to the plot itself, it is the bread and butter of the story. Unbelievable, flat, or static characters can kill a story even if the plot is stellar. So it’s something I find I have to watch out for when I write. How do I do this?

I keep tabs of my characters in Ywriter. Yes that writing program that I raved about before. I keep track of not only their appearance, but their personality. But before I even get to that stage, I figure out who each character is by giving them key personality traits such as being greedy, optimistic, antisocial, lustful, etc.

Then I take these attributes and play them against the overall plot of my story. For instance, I’m writing a story now (my upcoming novella actually) and the main character is a jaded introvert. So of course she reacts differently to going to an opulent feast being held in the castle than her best friend who is socially ambitious. And it lays out the groundwork for how she will develop as the story continues.

Which brings me to what I consider to be the most important part of characterization. Continuity. If a character is one way, then you can’t just change their personality in the blink of the eye. A coward isn’t going to magically jump in front of the biggest bad guy in the whole book for a sudden showdown. Even if he does have a magic baseball bat that is almost guaranteed to defeat anyone who crosses his path.

Yes, he may overcome his cowardice over time in the book, but not instantly. Which is where continuity comes into play. The key personality elements that you introduce your character to your audience with, needs to stay the same. I’m not saying you can’t change them or use them as obstacles or whatever in your story. But things need to be believable and stay that way throughout the whole book.

What are your thoughts on what makes for great characterization in a book? Also what are some of your pet peeves that you consider to be bad characterization?

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2 thoughts on “Characterization: Giving life to words

  1. Great characterization for me is when I can imagine a character because their mannerisms, they way they talk, the way they look and they way they think have been made so clear I can distinguish them as if they were a real person.
    My pet peeve with characterization is when a character is a certain way and there is no reasoning behind it or it is so out of character and never connects. Like a female character who trips over her own two feet and gets people into danger only to have her do something so heroic she saves the day and does not fall doing it. That just ticks me off.

    • I agree with your pet peeve which is why I think continuity is so important. You can’t have a character be a klutz and then flip a switch to make them graceful just to fit into the direction you want the plot to go. That is what trips up readers and gets books closed.

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