Write Wow!

Writing tips and techniques from the publisher of Swimming Kangaroo Books. Send your 3-page writing sample to be critiqued to dindy@swimmingkangaroo.com with the word "critique" in the subject heading. Your submission will be critiqued on the blog, but your name will not be used unless you give permission.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Getting to Know You

Characterization. You can have the greatest plot in the world, but if you don't have good characters to whom the reader can relate, you can forget about your book hitting the best seller list. Keep in mind that your characters have to have a reason for being. What do I mean by this? Just as too many cooks can spoil the broth, too many characters can clutter the story. I recently read a book by an author who modeled characters after people that he knew. I think he created a character for every single person that he knew, consequently, there were a lot of scenes in the novel that ended up just not going anywhere. There were scenes written about characters who were never seen again after the end of that particular chapter. I think the writer, himself, even had trouble keeping up with his characters because at one point he inadvertently resurrected someone he had killed off in a previous scene.

It's also important to KNOW your characters and make sure that they stay in character. If you remember classic Star Trek, you had your three main characters-- the dashing, heroic Captain Kirk, the logical, unemotional Mr. Spock and the crusty, emotional Dr. McCoy. These beloved characters were stereotypes, of course, but then the writers fell all over themselves trying to find ways to make them break character. How many episodes did we have with Spock smiling or crying or showing some kind of emotion due to some outside influence that had caused him to forget his Vulcan training? The actors always liked a chance to get out of character because it allowed them to stretch their skills, but it made for very inconsistent characterization.

Develop back stories for your main characters. Think about what kind of people they are and what made them that way. What makes them tick? For instance, Winnie the Pooh is motivated by honey. Dagwood Bumstead is motivated by food and naps. The creature Gollum is motivated by his attachment to the Ring.

What are their mannerisms, their peculiarities, their favorite sayings? Think of famous quotes from TV shows or movies and how they are associated with those characters. If I say "Hasta la vista, baby!" the image of the Terminator probably pops right into your head. If I say, "Why don't you come up and see me sometime?" you probably think of Mae West. If I say "Super-cali-fragi-listic-expi-ali-docious!" you probably think of Mary Poppins. Look at your characters and write dialogue and scenes for them so that the reader can tell who you are talking about without having to see the character's name.

One of the world's most famous characters is James Bond. ("Bond. James Bond." and "Shaken, not stirred.") He has been played by several different actors, who have each put their own spin on the character, but have retained the essential elements of the secret agent. James Bond is immediately recognizable whether he is played by Sean Connery, Roger Moore or Pierce Brosnan. He is suave, resourceful, slightly vulnerable, impulsive, and very, very sexy.

Characters can also be defined by what others say about them. Remember Star Wars, "Let the Wookie win." What did that tell you about Chewbacca's character? No one ever actually said, "Beam me up, Scotty," but that line was indelibly associated with the character of Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott of the Starship Enterprise. The creator of Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry, was affectionately referred to as the "Great Bird of the Galaxy." What does that tell you about him?

There are many ways you can define your characters in your stories. Just remember to make them REAL, make them CONSISTENT, and make them RELEVANT.


Anonymous Jan Verhoeff said...

I can say Wow! This is an awesome blog. The article about Characters is a big help. I'm currently rewriting an Adventure Series for children. I'll be sending you a few pages for review. I'm excited about the process of publication.

I'm also excited about starting out a New Year as a writer. My greatest thrill includes finding that others like reading my work.

Thanks for sharing this.


5:22 AM  
Blogger Swimming Kangaroo said...

Thanks Jan!I can certainly relate to your thrill in finding out that others enjoy reading your work. That has got to be the greatest pleasure for a writer- next to holding your first book in your hands!


9:04 PM  

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