Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Characterization and Contests
Every contest scoresheet is different. But one element you will almost always see judged is "Characterization."
I think it is the most important element to a story. Because no matter how great the plot....if people don't like your main character, they may not read far enough into the book to see what a plot-genius you are. LOL!
It is difficult to give a character struggles so they're real enough for readers to identify with, yet still keep them likable. Camy touched on that in a recent post. Characters should grow and change by the end of the book. But how much imperfection is too much? It's a hard balance to hit, so let's look at how contests gauge what makes characters great.
Some questions contest scoresheets ask are:
Are the main characters likable?
There are several other words that contest feedback forms use to describe strong characters...feel free to chime in if I hadn't included something you're familiar with.
What you don't want your main protag to be is flat, unlikable, cliche, unsympathetic, illogical and irritating to the point of provoking a book wall-banging, etc. There are a gazillion words for negative characterization traits.
I'm only gonna talk about some positive qualities characters need to have to hook readers. For instance, a character can be very memorable (think Freddie Kruger) but certainly not likable. But that's okay since he was the villain. LOL!
Since this is an interactive blog...I want mega feedback. Look at the bolded words above (by far an incomplete list). What on earth do these things mean? What do they mean TO YOU?
For me, a "memorable" character is one I think about days, weeks, months, even years after reading the book or watching the movie. A character who haunts me in the sense that I connected deeply with them. To the point I felt like they could be a real person. I WANT them to be a real person so I can know them. LOL! Characters who make me wish the world had a real person like them. Think Shindler of Shindler's List.
A character who recently moved me deeply was Ben Randall (played by Kevin Costner) in The Guardian.
The character of Ben was this brave (a "heroic" trait) rescuer, willing to risk his own life to save others ("endearing" and "memorable" traits). He also had this emotional struggle (which "added layers" and deepened him as a character) with his impending divorce and facing the fact that his skills may be slipping (two things that "sympathized" us to him) as a renowned record-breaking Coast Guard swimmer (again, a "heroic, larger than life" trait) and plunging him into possible retirement from a career that has become the bane of his existence.<-- (a trait that makes him seem "real" in the sense of he's this fabulous fantasy hero yet no one can escape the dreaded thing called aging. People (viewers/readers) can "relate" to that and "identify" with this character...especially those in that season of life where their bodies can't keep up with their careers.
Aspiring writers, since each of these terms are slightly different, how would you define them?
Readers...tell me what traits have endeared you to a character lately? Name a book or movie character who has stayed in your mind for years. Why do you think that is? How can we create characters that memorable in our books?
I'd love to hear more than "this character endeared me". What about that character drew and kept you? Or sympathized you to them? Was it the tragedy they suffered in childhood that came out in dialogue? What specifically did the author do to make that character memorable to you? What technique did they use to make you care enough about the fictional person to read the rest of the story?
Authors, we're dying to hear it! :-) What do you do to create strong characters?
This is an interactive blog...so talk away! :-) What you say (even you reader-only-readers) can help us writers strengthen our characters.
Ready, set, talk... :-)