Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Writing Tip: Character Sketches


 Character Sketches 

The creative process of characterization is vital to your book.  A tool that you may want to employ is writing biographical sketches of your characters.  Even though your main character might be a forty-five-year-old man and the story you are presenting will not incorporate a single thing about his childhood, you, as the creator of this man, must know every nuance of his early life.  Did he come from a stable, loving family or was his father a drunk who would fly into rages and physically abuse the boy’s mother?  Was he a good student or did he struggle through his lessons, barely passing from one grade to another?  Was he constantly teased by other children because he was shy or clumsy?  Or was he the school-ground bully who often challenged others to a fist-fight.  Would you find him to be a boy who often rescued stray animals?   As a teen, was he adventurous?–or rebellious, forever finding himself in hot water, or even in legal difficulties? 
Know your characters well. By establishing his early character-traits within your own mind, it will enable you to know exactly how he might react to a situation you place him in as the adult.  Let’s say his father was an abusive alcoholic and wife beater.  What effect did that have on your character?  Had he followed in his father’s footsteps?  Had he resolved the issues he once had with his father?  Was he now a crusader against spousal abuse?  Was he a compassionate man as a result of living with the tension of an alcoholic parent in the home?  He can be anything you want him to be but you have to understand what motivates him because if you do not, your reader will not.  Everything your character does must be the logical expression of character traits that have been clearly shown to the reader before the characteristic action takes place.  If the action takes place in the very beginning of a story, the action itself would be designed to establish character traits.  Your characters must act as the result of a motive.  Behind every human action is a reason.  Those reasons may be conscious or unconscious but they have an effect on how one reacts to any given situation.  They may be impacted by environment, culture, social standing, religious upbringing, and various other factors.  You, as a writer, must give your characters strong, logical, and significant motives.  These motives may be bad or good, depending on the character’s place in the story.  Motivation gives your character vitality, purpose, strength, and will be a character in which your reader can take an interest.

People generally act in character.  If you have conceived a character as a timid and unadventurous man, you cannot abruptly, for no visible reason, turn him into an audacious daredevil.  It is important that your characters stay consistent throughout your story.  If they do not, the reader will certainly know and reject the story.

Reasons for particular actions are believable when they are what the majority of people would do under those same circumstances.  Of course, your characters may change throughout the story and the important thing is that the change must come from well-motivated reasons.  Keep your characters in character and they will always be believable. 

 Become familiar with the basic human drives that make us act as we do–love, hate, fear, jealousy, greed, power, security–and know how your characters would react when challenged by these basic drives.

You can read more about writing in The Metaphysics of the Novel, The Inner Workings of a Novel and a Novelist by best-selling author, Don Pendleton, available in Kindle and print at Amazon.