July 14, 2006

Building character

In our second foray into the lessons learnt from "Self-Editing for Fiction Writers" let us look at what chapter two, "Characterization and Exposition" taught me so that in turn, perhaps you can glean something too 🙂

A good story needs good characters. People that you can relate to, or sympathize with or just be plain curious about. The trick however is in creating a good character and breathing life into them so that they actually become interesting enough to grab (and hold) your attention. This is where characterization comes in 🙂 The problem of course is in the "how".

You can start with a long narrative description which describes your character from the tiniest hair follicle on their head and down to the gum stuck to their shoe, but is that going to make a character believable? More importantly, is all of that necessary to the story? Does it make the reader like your character more?

Most of the time, the long narrative descriptions just bore a reader to tears and takes them out of the story. Besides, while all that information is certainly dumped, not much of it might get picked up unless written well. The whole process goes much better if you go back to basics and show what the person is like rather than telling the reader. Make the reader work to understand the character. Get him/her involved in the character from the get go. Don’t treat the reader as if they were somebody who needed to be spoonfed every last bit of information and they will reward you by sticking with you 🙂

So how do you do that? One of the best methods is to bring out the character’s character gradually, through a succession of scenes. Is your character a slob? Then don’t say that s/he is a slob, show it through a scene where his/her mother comes calling and is appalled at the dishes stacked up to the ceiling in the kitchen and the pile of dirty laundry that she has to push out of the way before she can even get into the apartment. It works better and it also humanizes your character 🙂

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Posted by Fahim at 7:25 am  |  No Comments