The characters in your book can be the difference of a bad book and a great one. I know I gave other reasons that can make a book bad, but characterization is extremely important when writing any story.
There are all types of characters mentioned in books. In other words, there are all types of personalities an author gives to readers. Did you know that psychologists believe there are four prototype personality traits? According to them a person is either sanguine (someone who’s truly social), choleric (someone who is independent and goal driven), melancholic (someone who is more analytical than most people), or phlegmatic (someone far more chill and quiet when bad things are happening around them).
Sounds a little too clinical, right? According to the consensus, there are sixteen personality types: the executive, the visionary, the giver, the doer, the inspirer, the caregiver, the scientist, the nurturer, the mechanic, the protector, the guardian, the artist, the idealist, the thinker, the duty fulfiller, and the performer. I’m not going to break down all of these types, but looking at them and you can get a good idea of what these individuals’ traits would be.
What kind of character is in your book?
Did you know that readers love vicious antagonist and sometimes the actions of the antagonist will make a reader love a book more than the protagonist?
Ohhh, there’s so much I can talk about when it comes to characters!
Let’s take this post into a different direction by listing a few great characters we’ve seen in movies. Here is a list of movies. Do you remember the characters in them that made that movie great?
1. The Godfather
2. The Shawshank Redemption
3. Pulp Fiction
4. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
5. Forrest Gump
6. The Matrix
8. The Silence of the Lambs
9. The Profession (played by Jean Reno and Matilda played by Natalie Portman)
10. The Departed
11. The Pianist
If you’ve noticed, I’ve listed movies that have strong character driven storylines. Think about these movies, then try removing the characters you liked best out of the storyline, even if that character played a minor role. Can you imagine what Game of Thrones would be like if it hadn’t included The Hound or The Imp, or Jon Snow? But what if the other characters were still there, like Daenerys, and Cersai, and The Mountain, and Joffrey? In the back of your mind, I’m sure you’re thinking the story wouldn’t have been as great without the first three characters I mentioned. Because let’s face it, the movies listed above were great because of the way the main characters portrayed themselves.
I can’t mention everything in one setting when speaking of characterization, but I’m going to hit on some good points that will help when you’re developing characters in your book. What do all of the characters in any book have? The answer is their own personal look in regards to face and outer appearance, and they also have a backstory. Aha! But wait!
No one’s looks are important in fiction, but looks do appeal to many readers. What does interest the reader is the personality of your characters. Aha!
So we have two things to focus on, personality and backstory. Why backstory? Because usually your backstory makes a reader empathize with the character. Your main character can be anything from an assassin, to a lunatic, to a middle school girl coping with life. Personality is key! The main character of your book can be a bad guy. Think of the movie Scarface. Yeah, baby! Tony Montana!
How well had this character been written and well received by an audience? The movie was released in 1983. It is now 2018 and Scarface T-shirts, posters and other memorabilia generate millions of dollars ach year in sales. His character is one of the top cultural icons in movies. Why is that? Because movie goers and book readers never want a good character to ever die in their minds or for a good story to never end.
Think about that! Sorry for so many exclamation points, but this is how important characterization is in any book. What are the main things that endear a reader to a character? The answer can be many things, but one thing is true. They don’t have to want to be like your main characters, but they must be able to identify with them, as well as must be convinced by your character’s reactions to conflict. Let’s take a look at the character Forrest Gump. While battling the war in Vietnam and his unit came under attack, what did he do? He looked around and began saving the entire platoon by dragging them out of the danger zone. His reaction to this conflict made movie goers sympathize more for him. Stupid is as stupid does. Tell me if you cared if people in his town thought he was stupid. I think most of us will say no, because we cared so much about this character, because it was a character that got to our hearts.
I know a character like Forrest Gump is a little over the top in terms of the book you may be writing. What I want you to focus on are the reasons I’m mentioning instead, because regardless of genre, only characters that touch our hearts, or…excites us with their wickedness in the role of an antagonist, and his strengths as a hero will be memorable to most readers.
What kind of characters get into a reader’s heart? Again, the answer can be multiple things, but here’s something I need to make emphasis on. Empathy! Your character may be a beast, such as in Beauty and the Beast, or a villain, or an asshole, or an alcoholic, or an assassin, or someone with mental disorders (A Beautiful Mind!), an assuming child, a middle-aged woman that wants to change the way she lives. Do you get my point? One thing that makes a character stands out to readers is their ability to evoke empathy (!), as well as their reactions to conflict, and their strengths and weaknesses. Yes, I’m repeating myself because I truly want this to sink in. There’s something else that makes them great, and that is the characters ability to make readers view them as a hero. Aha!
Heroes! A good book needs a good hero. A hero doesn’t mean your character is an all around good guy with good morals. There are several types of heroes in literature:
1. Antihero: a specialized hero, most likely viewed as a villain in the eyes of society that readers and movie viewers sympathize with. Example character: Captain Jack Sparrow (Pirates of the Caribbean franchise)
2. Willing hero: someone that’s confident and committed to adventure, someone that’s self-motivated and brave at all times. Example characters: Tarzan (The Legend of Tarzan) or how about a character from my sci-fi series? Hamut (half alien, half human prince and heir to the throne of the Margas Clan)
3. Unwilling hero: someone with plenty of doubt, and needs motivation; their character usually experiences a transformation in personality with the transformation making them more committed to the adventure. Example characters: This is an easy one to start with: Spiderman (Spiderman franchise). I’m also going to mention another of my characters from my sci-fi series: Ericka Martin (a chosen leader by the people that surround her)
4. Tragic hero: someone flawed, with inner demons, and is usually brought down by their inner demons, but usually their flaws help them win in the end. Example character: I love this one! Doesn’t this remind you of the main character in The Girl on the Train?!?
5. Loner hero: someone that lives separated from society that embarks on a journey that will re-enter them into society, but in the end, this character usually prefers living alone. Example character: Oh, I love this one! Boo Radley (To Kill a Mockingbird)
6. Catalyst hero: a mentor, someone that purposely want to create change in others. Example character: Professor Albus Dumbledore (Harry Potter books)
7. Group oriented hero: someone that’s a part of society but their journey leads them far from home and are usually experiencing the journey alone, but in the end is reunited with people they are familiar with back at home. Example characters: Dorothy (The Wizard of Oz), Nemo (The Adventures of Nemo)
As you can see, the main character doesn’t have to be the only hero in your book! Usually the main characters are supported by minor characters that are witty, or shrewd, or hilariously funny, etc.
Let’s put all that I’ve said to the test. Here are some of the characters from the movies and books I’ve listed or mentioned and some of the reasons readers love them. Can you distinguish which type of hero they are?
Harry Bosch (Michael Connelly books):
Why readers empathize: mother was a prostitute, as a child lived in more than one orphanage, has an ex-wife and a daughter he has to raise on his own after his ex-wife is killed.
What readers love: he has an active sex life; his lovers usually change with each book, his fellow officers are sometimes crooked cops. He doesn’t shy away from the truth of police corruption. He’s sympathetic when he needs to be, and he’s a veteran homicide detective seen by readers as a hero motivated in bringing a killer to justice.
Tony Montana (Scarface):
Why readers empathize: he’s journey of rags to riches. He’s a refugee from Cuba that arrived in Miami, Florida and lands up in a refugee camp. His only way out and getting a green cards to live the American dream is committing a murder for pay. He’s often shot at by the people he works for and has a dysfunctional relationship with his mother. His decline after he accomplishes all his goals reminds us that success sometimes have an ultimate price.
Why readers love him: his heavy accent, his aspirations to become something more than a lowly paid dishwasher at a hole in the wall diner. The things he says throughout the movie: ‘Chi-Chi, get the yayo!’ ‘I’ll kick your monkey ass!’ ‘Fly pelican fly!’ He shows no fear when confronting an enemy. His get rich or die trying attitude. He inspires us to nurture our ideas of becoming someone rich and powerful.
Michael Corleone (God Father books):
Why readers empathize: he’s the son of an Italian immigrant that became the Don of one of New York City’s five mafia families. He’s forced to become the Don after an assassination attempt on his father. Before this, for years he wanted nothing to do with his criminal behaving family and their mafia involvement. He’s forced to watch the people closest to him and his family die one by one. He’s loses the number one thing he loves.
Why readers love him: He’s a bad mother! LOL. He knows that sometimes your enemies are the people closest to you, and he’s unafraid to kill ALL his enemies, including family members (I know that sounds harsh but this is fiction and sometimes people wish bad things on people they love, which makes the reader capable of identifying and connecting with his character). His intelligence when it comes to a counter attack on the enemy. His street knowledge and cultural knowledge, which he uses to undermine others.
Neo aka The One aka Thomas Anderson (Matrix movies): Did you know that Neo is an anagram of the word ‘one?’
Why readers empathize: He’s an unassuming computer hacker that believes he’s living an ordinary life in an otherwise ordinary world, only to discover he’s actually one in millions of people living in a simulated reality, and is then chosen as the leader of those who have been ‘awakened to truth’ to overthrow the machines when the majority of them believe he’s the man mentioned in a prophecy (okay, probably not prophecy, but you get my point).
Why viewers loved him: He’s one bad mother! He has special telekinetic powers that gave us plenty of excitement and he can kick butt like nobody’s business!
Hannibal Lecter (The Silence of the Lambs):
Why readers empathize: I have no idea! LOL. I think mostly he’s a bad ass antagonist that scares us to think there can be somebody like him in real life.
Why readers love him: he’s a forensic psychiatrist and surgeon by day, and a cannibal serial killer by night! Highly intelligent, has a high I.Q., hates people that are rude, views himself as an exceptional example of a good member of society, while at the same time has assigned himself to rid the world of people who break his personal rules. He’s seen as a raging sociopath by detectives, and after escaping prison had plastic surgery to give him a new look, but refused to alter his nose because he loves fragrances and prides himself in his ability to smell things better than other people can. Overall, his less than ordinary personality makes him stand out in books.
The Hound aka Sandor Clegane (Game of Thrones):
Why readers empathize: he was burned by his brother as a small child over a trivial matter, leaving scars that cover one side of his face. He’s one of the most dangerous and skilled fighters, but he’s not a knight and therefore does not receive the privileges of one. He’s sorely afraid of fire because of what happened to him as a child.
Why readers love him: he’s a tormented man, possibly driven by rage, but at times, when it’s least expected, shows empathy towards female children, and we can’t get enough of his violent skills as a fighter.
Like I said, characterization is a lengthy subject, but I think I’ve mentioned enough things about it that can help you develop memorable characters for your book. Just remember empathy, personalities, fears, weaknesses, and strengths while readers view your characters as enjoyable heroes.
Until next time, keep writing! Did this post get you stirred up to start writing again? We only have two more days for the completion of this blog project.