I know I'm behind, but I'm trying hard to catch up. There are somethings that are unavoidable, and these issues usually arise more over the weekend than in the week.
Characterization is everything to a good book. If I can’t absorb readers’ interest in my main characters, they won’t continue reading. I can list a few things that I’ve noticed turns a reader off when it comes to characters. Here are the main two that I will list on this thread.
1. The character is an adult, but all of the dialogue makes them sound like a kid.
2. Not enough personality comes through on the pages, so readers can’t connect or make an opinion one way or another in regards to if they like the character or not.
Think about this a moment. You’re at party being held at a restaurant. You’re standing with friends or work colleagues when suddenly a man is introduced to you for the first time. On the outside, he’s a good looking guy. Maybe not your type, but hey. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. This guy is doing all the right things. He’s dressed for the evening, nice clothes, good smelling cologne, he looks mid 20ish or early 30s, and then he opens his mouth and talks like he’s 8. Not only is he talking like he’s 8, he’s fidgeting and antsy and keeps a goofy smile on his face. Honestly, what would you think about this guy?
This is a good image to use when writing. I can’t give readers a good-looking outside package of my male main character, but every time he opens his mouth he’s sounding and acting like some big dumb kid. But what about a woman? Readers, especially woman readers, cannot stand a weak female character, and some can’t stand an overly masculine acting woman (unless it’s part of the plot). Now that’s a little bit more of a problem for me. Of course, we’re no longer living in the dark ages, but I love writing about a damsel in distress. I love for men to be chivalrous. This is seen a lot in romance books, and gives my books a romantic flare.
When writing, there’s always a fine line I don’t want to cross. This fine line is visible on multiple topics: dialogue, characterization, milieu, subject matters that are mentioned in my book. The list is longer, but I think you’re getting my point. When I think of my character, I see them as real people. If I see them as real people, I have to write about them like real people. I also need to make certain that readers know who’s who while reading. No author tells readers in any chapter that this particular is a main character or one of the bad guys. Readers figure this out as keep reading, but more than likely, at the first time a main character is mentioned a reader usually can identify them right away. As an author, it’s not my job to make the reader like my antagonist, but I do have to make them feel for my protagonist. If I can’t make them fall for my protagonist, all is lost, because it is the protagonist’s desire that is the theme of my plot. If a reader doesn’t care about my protagonist and what he wants to achieve in the storyline, they won’t give a rat’s patootie about him or my book.
This is why many times you kind of see the same kind of male character and female character in almost every book you read, because most authors know what kind of male and female characters a reader wants. What makes these characters different in each book is their desire and personality. Once a reader is convinced that I can write about the kind of characters they like reading about, they will continue to buy books. I’m the same way. I write, but I’m also an avid reader. My favorite authors either provides me with sure to laugh storylines or characters that make me feel good about them and me.
What I can’t do while writing is throw in so much character that the story starts getting annoying. Readers don’t need to know everything my character is thinking or how he feels about everything that’s happening around him. This is when I must consider the fine line. I must give enough, but not too much. And that old adage is true when it comes to literature. Less is best, because less invokes curiosity and interest.
When I’m doing a speech or conducting a writing class, I can be long winded. This can also be seen in my books. My word count tends to be on the opposite side of commercial fiction. I like writing each scene in a way that the reader feels like they are right there alongside my characters. But at times, I can get too wordy and during the reread I know I’m going to have to cut some of it down. I find myself admiring authors that can make a point in very few words. I mention this next example in my book, Anyone Can Write. I like using it because it truly makes my point on this subject of giving a character personality, and it’s a good example of not writing for two pages to accomplish it.
In Dennis Lehane’s book, “The Drop,” two paragraphs in you read (I’m paraphrasing here):
Richie’s friends were in the bar, toasting drinks in his memory, because for ten years Richie’s been missing. The last time anyone saw him, he left the Marv’s bar to score some ‘ludes or weed and was never seen from again. He left behind a girlfriend, a kid he rarely saw, and a car in the shop waiting for a new spoiler. That’s how everyone knew he was dead. Richie would never have left the car behind. He loved that fucking car.
I mean, come on. Doesn’t this tell you a lot about Richie? After you read this small paragraph, you can easily replace Richie with someone you possibly even know. You get what kind of guy he is right away. The last time anyone saw him, he was trying to make a score. And this guy loved his car more than he did his kid or girlfriend. I can name a few people I’ve met that can also fit Richie’s personality as I see his personality in my mind. But ‘my mind’ is the keyword. Different readers can read this paragraph and each of them would have a different idea of Richie. They’re also going to either hate him or see him as a friend or feel sorry for him. But notice that either way the reader’s interest has been captured. Why, you may ask? Because Richie has become someone familiar to them, someone they may already know. Because he has become familiar, the reader now cares. Their emotions have been plucked. And that is always a good thing.
I can’t make a reader like my characters, but making them care is highly important. I can make them care by giving them a character they can relate to. That’s what I’m always doing while reading. I being mindful to give readers characters that in some way pluck their emotions.
Now let’s get back to the paraphrased paragraph in Dennis Lehane’s book, because there’s something else that’s important to mention. Richie is missing, but not once in this paragraph is murder mentioned. But as a reader, I’m kinda wondering what happened to Richie? For ten years he’s been missing. Where the heck is this guy? Is he still alive? The reason I care is because how this one paragraph is written. His friends are drinking a toast to Richie’s memory. This tells me that no matter what kind of guy Richie was, people loved him. That one sentence and Richie is a living person to me. We, as people, are loving by nature. We care about all people by nature. A good example of this is what happened recently at Douglas High School in Florida. It doesn’t matter if we’ve never been to Florida or know anyone there. People were injured and hurt and suffered an injustice, and that alone sparked our emotion. This is the same in fiction, because real people read books. They can’t stop being human just because they’re reading, which means they can’t stop loving, caring, laughing, crying just because the person they’re reading about doesn’t truly exist. A good writer will make a reader believe these characters are real, if only in the mind.
When I write a book, characterization is everything. The personalities of my characters must stay true to my plot. I can give an annoying character if that’s that character’s role in the plot. They can be funny or witty or highly intelligent. What they can’t be is generic or off-putting or the kind of annoying that no one wants to read about them. I must write my characters in a way that the reader cares and continues to read to find out what’s going to happen.
There are so many things I can share about writing, and if I shared them all this blog will never end. I can go on and on about characterization. And I’ll mention to those of you who may be interested that writing courses will be made live shortly. Two of the topics that I mention at this time are Writing the First Chapter (genre specific) and Characterization.
There are different ways to drive a plot. One of them is a character driven plot. That’s one of my styles. I like giving a character driven plot. It will definitely be seen in the current historical I’m writing.
Until next time, keep writing! And keep visiting the blog. I promise that all of the things I mention will come to you the more you write.