Sunday, April 28, 2013

Characterisation


Let’s talk characterisation! Characterisation is one of the elements that makes up the wonderful world of fiction. In the cauldron labelled FICTION, you put (alongside characterisation) plot, theme, setting and style. Everybody handles their dosage in different ways. I usually put a dash of theme and setting and am heavier on the amount of characterisation, style and plot. Characterisation, though, is one of my favourite ‘ingredients’ to handle. 
To me, a story can still have a plot that is lacking, but when the characters are so real I can reach the page and touch them, it makes for a gripping and good story. Sometimes that fits the story, to have the plot in the background. And sometimes it’s the other way around.
I like figuring things out, especially people. That is why I like mystery plots and deep characters. I guess as a writer, I have a preference for figuring out people instead of an actual mystery. I’m not the only one who thinks this, because 
FUN FACT: around the fifteenth century, Aristotle advocated the plot-driven narrative, but in the nineteenth century that changed and the character-driven narrative was promoted, mainly due to the advanced knowledge of psychology.


In any case, let me give you a little info on the types of characters.
-Protagonist: the main character.
-Antagonist: adversary of main character.
-Point-of-view character: the character that observes (tells) the story. Doesn’t necessarily have to be the main character. (Like in the Sherlock Holmes stories, where Watson tells the story the way he observes it to be.)
-Minor character: supports main character.
-Foil character: makes the characteristics of main character stand out. Usually has opposite characteristics of main character.
-Impact character: drives the main character forward. Forces the action much like an antagonist. In conflict with main character and uses that to help him/her, or not. Can be friend or enemy.


There is also explicit/direct characterisation, which is when the author actually tells the reader what a character is like through description by narrator/character.
Implicit/indirect characterisation is my favourite kind because that is when the reader finds out for himself what a character is like through the actions/thoughts/speech/interactions of a character. Since I’m a big fan of show, don’t tell, this is (in my eyes) the best way of describing a character. Also, as a reader I find this is the best way of getting to know a character. But again, I like figuring people out.

For me, I’ve never had much trouble putting down three-dimensional people on paper. And when I had, it was because I was linking the wrong person to the wrong story. Or the right person to the wrong story? You know what I mean.
There’s either the idea of a story which I then link with an appropriate character, or it’s the other way around. However, when I find my characters a little flat, it helps to inflate them with a secret (relating to other characters or the plot, or just themselves) that only I know. Something you might never mention or hint at in the story, but that still helps you show depth. I also like one quirky thing about my characters, especially with regard to fears. For instance, a deep-rooted fear of tennis balls.
There are writers who like to work with long lists that explore their tastes, dislikes, what shoes they wear, etc. I don’t like to think of details like that, unless they are actually mentioned in the story. I have an overall view of the character. The way you feel you know someone well, even though you don’t know many facts about them or know them that long. And based on that I know how they react to situations and characters.
There are two golden rules to remember: show, don’t tell and less is more. Hinting at things and being subtle is the best thing to do. You know how they say that a picture is worth a thousand words. It’s something like that. One small gesture, a look or one sentence can usually say a lot about that person, just like with real people. The benefit of fake people is that you can be smart, sneaky and creative with how you introduce more about them. Also, they don't talk back.  

I suppose for everyone it is different and I’m curious to learn how other writers handle characterisation. So, grab a chair and some biscuits while I put the kettle on. ^_^


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