By accepting the invitation to appear here on Writers on the Storm, I agreed to write on the assigned topic of characterization. I was reminded of the Mission Impossible phrase, “Should you agree to accept this assignment”… the first thing I did was pray.
|Author LoRee Peery|
My file on characterization, used to begin a new project, was once an eleven-page template. I struggled through those details for each of my stories, based on what works for successful authors. Two novellas ago, I trimmed that down to six pages. It’s a lot of work to brainstorm, fill in the grids and worksheets, and play “what if?” I often think I make it too hard.
Some authors conduct interviews to get to know their made-up people more intimately. I have notebooks and paper files on how to write deep, memorable characters. Their wounds, names, jobs, places in the family, emotions, flaws, phobias, heroism. You get the idea. The list goes on.
People have problems. In order to face those problems and ultimately rise above them, the creator of character needs to know these fictitious people in order to tell their stories.
Characters are Story People
The oldest character book I have on my bookshelf is Fiction is Folks by Robert Newton Peck. According to Peck, character makes your story glisten. What matters is the inner man, the mind, the soul. And as an author, you need to know that person.
Mind and soul takes me right to what God has to say about character. Character is the inner person. You all have the smarts to search out what God has to say about character in the Bible. In Writing the Christian Romance, Gail Gaymer Martin sums it up this way:
By allowing characters to ignore God’s command [on biblical attributes], the hero and heroine will falter in their faith and pay the consequences of sorrow and sin. These make excellent conflicts because they are real-life issues with which all Christians must struggle.
Character is Plot
Dynamic Characters, by Nancy Kress, begins with a quote by novelist Henry James, “Character is plot.” [Romance author, LoRee Peery, could quit this post and let all you writers take it from here.] Kress claims the first step with an interesting story idea is to turn whatever that is into character. Who, what, why, how, where – all pointing to what can go wrong.
Orson Scott Card says in Characters and Viewpoint, “Effective characterization requires careful attention at every stage in the writing of fiction.” He also reminds us people are what they have done, and what has been done to them. Does that sound like plot to you?
Character Equals Fiction
Larry Brooks devotes fifty pages to character in Story Engineering. To sum up Brooks on characterization, it is the vehicle that delivers theme, it is the window that allows killer concept to expand and thrive. Characters are the focus of scene creation and the lyrics of your writing voice.
Character is Also Structure.
In Techniques of the Selling Writer, Dwight V. Swain—anyone heard of him?—titles a chapter “The people in your story.” He says, “Your character’s need to control destiny, to feel adequate to each developing situation, is what gives him his strength, his drive, his motive force: in a word, his direction.”
Characters have Emotions
In Creating Character Emotions, Ann Hood demonstrates good and bad examples, by using thirty-six common emotions. The rippling effect of emotions in fiction—the way they help to create character, setting, theme, and plot—are meant to be threaded throughout story.
Some authors make it sound easy. Rachel Hauck posted a blog on Novel Rocket, where she explains how she designs her internal character with five elements:
- Dark wound of the past.
- The Lie he believes.
- The greatest fear.
- The secret desire.
- What can they do in the end they couldn't do in the beginning?
Then she works on developing their story. Which brings me to the latest book on writing I’ve dug into.
Master the Subtleties of Characterization
Steven James, in Story Trumps Structure, has made me reconsider that six-page character file I mentioned earlier. I quote: “Filling out those detailed character histories and personality profiles is most often simply a waste of time.” He advises writers to break the rules.
Ask yourself what your character wants and what goes wrong, and go from there. His section on characters is called “Subtleties of Characterization.” Characters have attitude—they have quirks and idiosyncrasies—just like us. Imagine that.
Thank you for reading this far. I will leave you with what I’ve learned.
No matter how many charts and forms I’ve filled out, story is not story until I’ve worked through whose story I’m telling.
As Stephen King says, if you do your job, your characters will come to life.
We grow as Christians. We make these story people memorable by putting ourselves into each and every one as they grow through their struggles in the context of story. After all, we grow through our struggles, or God would be finished with us.
Grow those story people until they overcome their struggles. Finish their stories.
We also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. ~~ Romans 5:3-5 (NASB)
A Nebraska country girl, LoRee Peery attempts to see God’s presence every day. Often that gift comes from nature, and she is most relaxed in the outdoors. The call of a cardinal draws her to look for the distinctive flash of crimson. A meadowlark’s melody always transports her to the farm where she grew up. A rainbow holds special significance, since one appeared the day of her father’s funeral and means the promise of the Lord’s presence in her life. She clings to I John 5:4 and prays her family sees that faith. You can find her at www.loreepeery.com or the Pelican Book Group site.
Paisley and Rob love each other, but neither is willing to correct what needs to be fixed in their relationship, so Paisley relocates out of state. When she discovers a secret that may repair Rob’s view of his past, she reaches out. Rob is still bitter over Paisley’s inability to commit and her habit of running, but he believes she sincerely cares for him, so he investigates her claim to have found his unknown heritage. After the emotional turmoil of meeting a family he knew nothing about, Rob’s love for Paisley convinces him to reconcile their differences. His world is incomplete without Paisley. However, she is reluctant to move forward, and has an opportunity to flee again. Will Rob help convince Paisley the answer is not to move again, but lies with the Lord, or will Rob lose Paisley forever?
Find Paisley's Pattern on sale on the Pelican Book Group site!