A good book is as fulfilling to a reader as a favorite meal. How often have you felt as though you were “devouring” a particular novel? Did you find yourself with a satisfyingly full feeling after such a “meal,” perhaps only wishing that there was room for more? If the perfect story is like a delicious meal, then the plot would be the recipe, the events would be the main ingredients, and the characters would be the herbs and spices that give the entire dish depth and flavor.
Studying the “characters” populating her real life is a great way for an author to round out the characters she brings to life on the pages of her next novel. She should be a dedicated people watcher, identifying interesting personal quirks, ingrained habits, and individual tastes that make people stand out. Filing these tidbits of information away, whether mentally or by writing them down in an idea notebook, gives the author plenty of ingredients in her spice cabinet as she develops the flavors of each story.
Okay, enough with the food metaphors; I’m making myself hungry!
We’ve been reviewing the basics of grammar here, but let’s step away from that for now. As much as lecturing about the proper use of semi-colons excites any editor, I must admit that there are other elements to a story besides the mechanics of sentence structure. (Just don’t forget anything, there might be a test!)
How does a writer create a character who is going to inspire disdain? Respect? Pity? What if he wants his audience to empathize with what a character is experiencing? What makes up a personality, when viewed from the outside?
All of these elements can be used to round out a character and prompt readers as to how they are supposed to react to him or her.
Of course, those are just the basics of characterization. Not only must a writer be a curious people-watcher, he should also be interested in the sociology and psychology behind the character traits people possess.
No, I’m not saying that you should have multiple degrees if you really want to succeed! But every personality has layers, doesn’t it? (You can visualize an onion or a parfait, depending on personal preference.) Understanding what’s beneath and inside those layers can go a long way to helping others see your character exactly as you envision him or her.
Why do some people stutter? Why does one person let everyone take advantage of him, while another seems to crave power? Where does a certain speech pattern come from, whether it be a regional habit of dropping the r’s in words or a person’s tendency to always end a sentence so that it sounds like a question, even when it isn’t?
Let’s dig into characters and see what we can learn!