Characterization with Madam Zelda
Yes. It is I. Madame Zelda.
I am delighted to be here in Seekerville today.
(And after last night's New Year's Eve Party you could call this a miracle)
I thought I'd open up with a little fortune teller humor.
When two fortune tellers meet it goes something like this:
"You are fine. How am I?"
Good characterization is all about channeling your characters.
And who better to explain this than Madam Zelda? Trust me, I know I quite a few characters and believe it or not I am a writer myself.
Channeling Your Characters by Madame Zelda
Why channel your characters? Because :
- it eliminates two-dimensional characters
- it uncovers motivation for the characters
- motivation leads to writing scenes based on those character motivations
- it provides deep point of view (pov)
Simply put, if you want the reader to invest in your characters you must elicit emotion by creating believable characters. That investment is not made simply telling them who a character is, but showing them.
Once the reader knows the character then they will also know how a character will act or react. At this point you have a responsibility as a writer. The reader now expects that the motivations of the character will be unique and consistent to the character you have created.
How to channel your characters:
First you need a dark room and plenty of candles. It might help to watch Whoopie Goldberg in Ghost too.
Kidding-- just a little gypsy humor.
Channeling is simply an exercise in visualization. You become the character.
I utilize this technique often when I am not sure where to take a scene or if I do not actually know for certain what the character's exact response should be in a situation or if I have written a draft of the scene and am ready to proof the emotions and layer more in.
This requires a no interruptions, and a quiet environment.
Run through the scene in your head with your eyes closed and/or by reading the scene aloud like a script. Acting out the scene may also be beneficial.
My character is a divorced thirty-something woman who has ex-husband issues, family issues and lack of viable sperm issues.
I begin channeling Sophie by closing my eyes and crossing my arms across my chest. She's tense, and frustrated. I try to feel these emotions. My jaw clenches and my back becomes rigid as I get into Sophie and think about the issues she is dealing with right now. I begin talking aloud as though I am Sophie, simply stream of consciousness rambling...
" Am I asking for too much? All I want is normal. All I have ever wanted is normal. Instead I have a mother who refuses to marry my uncle and give up her crown of widowhood and a goth-chick little sister with a Peter Pan complex. Dear Lord. "
I sigh loudly as I know Sophie would.
"And what am I going to do about JACK? I can't save everyone."
So far in the scene, after an interaction with the hero Jack, the door bell rings...and now I realize exactly who should be at the door as I channel Sophie's inner angst.
She peeked out the peep hole, then hung her head and tried not to sob.
First Homeland Security. Now this.
Alan Winston James II
In fact, never, would be good. But definitely not today.
Generally Sophie refrained from even using his name. But it was hard to ignore her ex husband when she was looking up his deviated septum. She hadn’t seen the man since their day in divorce court. Today, of all days, he had to turn up on her doorstep?
Her life wasn’t screwed up enough? She raised her hands skyward. “Why, God? Why?”
The buzzer rang again, this time with more insistence.
Sophie swung open the door. “Al? Something I can help you with?”
Alan cringed. He loathed nicknames. “You haven’t returned my calls.”
“I never return your calls.”
He adjusted his silk paisley tie, seemingly at a loss for words.
She beat a staccato rhythm with her sandaled foot on the tiled floor of the entry way. “What do you want?”
“Aren’t you going to invite me in?"
A word on deep point of view (pov) from Madame Z:
Deep pov can also be thought of as is a dimension of channeling to create intimacy between the characters and the readers. It involves using the sensory realm as you channel. A word of caution from the gypsy: do not feel obligated to use all five senses all at once. Use the senses that are naturally dominant in that particular deep pov scene.
No one writes deep pov better than the author who coined the term, Suzanne Brockmann . In an interview on Writers Write, she explains deep POV:
"Deep Point of View was a phrase that I came up with when I was trying to explain my writing style. Point of view can be subjective (picture a hand-held camera on top of a character's head) or objective (picture something like a security camera, bolted into place in the corner of a room). In my books, I use subjective point of view, but I'm not satisfied with merely showing the reader what that camera sees from its perch atop a character's head. I bring the camera down, inside of that character's head, so we see the world through that character's eyes. We hear things through his ears. We smell what he smells, feel what he feels, think what he think. With deep POV, I write using words that that character would use. I tell the story with that character's voice. "
If you want to learn even more about deep pov, Madame Z refers you to Camy Tang's in-depth posts on the topic.
Characterization tips from some other experts...
1. A practical guide is Linda Seger's Creating Unforgettable Characters.
"Characters need to be consistent. This does not mean that they are predictable or stereotypical. It means that characters, like people, have a kind of core personality that defines who they are and gives us expectations about how they will act. If characters deviate from this core, they may come across as incredible, as not making sense or adding up."
2. The classic for writers: Fiction is Folks, by Robert Newton Peck.
" We writers fall into the N.D. (narrative drag) whenever we rip the camera out of the hero's head, demanding that we, not he, tell the story to a reader."
3. The definitive word by Dwight V. Swain, Creating Characters: How to Build Story People
4. From GMC: Goal, Motivation and Conflict by Debra Dixon
"Keep in mind that the reader is supposed to identify and empathize with your character from the moment the character makes an entrance."
I hope Madame Zelda has given you something to think about as you create your characters. Now let me look into my crystal ball to tell you what I see... I see that I am going to share the secret recipe for my famous Gypsy Cookies with Seekerville.
White Chocolate Chip Gypsy Cookies
1 stick butter, softened
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup white chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
In a large bowl, cream the butter with both sugars until smooth. Then beat in the egg. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and salt before gradually stirring into the creamed mixture. Mix in the white chocolate. Drop dough by teaspoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets.
Bake for 10 minutes or until it starts to turn golden brown. If you like nuts, then chopped macadamias would be a nice addition.
More info here.