Thursday, August 30, 2007

More on Characterization

Yesterday I wrote about creating characters your readers will love...or hate. It really doesn't matter what brilliant storyline you've mapped out, if your readers don't give two hoots about who the conflict is happening to, they won't continue reading. What's a writer to do? Create memorable characters, that's what.

As writers we must keep in mind that each character must evoke a strong emotional response in the reader. Yesterday I wrote that characters must be flawed. We've all met someone who seems too good to be true. Even though common sense tells us this is imposssible, we can't help grinding our teeth at the perceived perfection in this person.

Now you probably think I'm incredibly petty, but come on. I know people, and I like to think I know a little something about human nature. When a woman is never seen in public with a hair out of place or a skuff on her shoe, her husband is incredibly successful and her children are potty trained by two and a half, and to top it all off she can eat what she wants and never gain weight...well, let me tell you, it's pretty easy to dislike this individual even though we know she probably doesn't clean behind her refrigerator either.

Okay, now that we've got that out of the way, I'll go back to the strong emotional response. As you read the above description about the perfect woman, didn't you dislike her just a teensy little bit. You can admit it. I won't tell anyone. If you're being honest, you experienced an emotional response to this woman even though she doesn't exist. Our characters must do the same to readers if we want them to keep reading.

The above forementioned woman could become the sister-in-law in your book who looks down her nose at your heroine. You can always reveal her flaws and insecurities later in the book if you're feeling guilty, but wouldn't she be a fun character to work with?

Or what about a mother-in-law or nosy neighbor? In nearly all my books I have a matronly character, typically an aunt or grandmother or mother, who annoys the socks off the heroine. This character is bossy and condescending and mean spirited. I don't include these characters simply because they are fun to write, which they certainly are.

They're even more fun to write than crazy people.

I include them for a very important reason. Most women can relate to this type of character. We have had a matronly figure in our lives who sometimes comes across as bossy and mean. Naturally I exaggerate these qualities for fiction's sake, but they always evoke a strong emotional response.

Did I mention I have fun doing it?

Have fun with your characters. Draw them so that readers can relate. Most importantly, make them real. A book critic once contacted me and said, "If I find out you had a perfectly normal childhood, I'll be terribly disappointed."

I figure I've done my job well.


  1. Wow, another writer's blog I can peruse (instead of writing). I look forward to reading more.


  2. ... and today I just introduced you on my blog, with a link.