Thursday, January 19, 2012

On characters

The next segment I'm focusing on this year is character. There's mood and feeeeeling, which have to do with interiority, private interpretation, and voice, all of which are part of character portrayal. But then there's the bit about creating a character who exists apart from the plot events. I will freely confess that while I've read a lot of books where I like the story and feeeeel for the characters, six months later, I can't remember their names (and in really extreme cases, I can't keep two characters in one book straight). So--I would say that while excellent characters are probably a key point in making a book someone's best beloved--it might not be the sole criteria for selling a book. However, I want to write excellent books, not just moderately pleasing ones! So, two thoughts on characters that are not my own, but which I think are worth writing down and using when creating memorable characters:

1. Giving them some distinguishing "thing" that's all their own (from Christy Lenzi), something that exists quite apart from the plot at hand, and
2. Making sure that your principal characters contrast each other and complement each other (from Maggie Stiefvater). Not in a cliche or cardboard way--but some small way to signal to the reader who it is when they come up.

Some examples of these principles:

Anne of Green Gables--who could ever forget Anne? She has carrot-colored hair about which she's very sensitive, and she has a fantastic imagination that gets her into trouble.

Draco Malfoy, with his pale hair, pointed chin, and drawling voice. Actually, just about every character of Rowling's has something. Snape's greasy hair and silky, dangerous voice, Umbridge's horrible pink hair bow. Sometimes it's something visible and sometimes it's a way of speaking (hem hem!). But we know it's them!

DJ Schwenk--she doesn't ever say what's on her mind, even though a lot is.

Julianna from Flipped--the girl with the tree and the chickens

Crossley-Holland's Gatty--bad grammar but sees things true

Wizard Howl--vain!

Lord Teddie, from Entwined, for his posh and genial way of speaking, as well as Lord Bradford's kind brown eyes.

Mr. Malvern from The Scorpio Races, with his horrible tea mixture (tea, butter, milk, and salt--ick!!)

I realize these are examples for point 1 above, and I'm going to have to think some more on contrasting characters. Hopefully I can come up with some good examples and do a follow up post to this.

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