Characterization – An Overview

Well, it’s Monday again, and I’m still trying to figure out how much I can talk about writing before I effectively run out with my frequent posting. If anyone has any topics to suggest, please comment and I’ll give my thoughts on the matter in a future posting. Today, I thought I’d talk about characterization. Now, characterization is a huge topic that can span a large number of posts, so I might as well charge head first into this, or I’ll never get it started.

There is so much to be said about this aspect of writing that it’s hard to pick a place to start. Hell, we can apply characterization to art as much as writing when you get down to it, but I’ll save that part for another time. For now, I’m sticking to starting out with a general overview, and some ideas.

I’m sure any aspiring writer has seen at least one or two of these things (particularly in the fantasy/sci-fi genres), called generators. They pick a bunch of random details and put them together into a character, or a place, or a thing. I have a few favorites myself that I like to check out. Don’t rely on them for anything other than inspiration. Making characters this way kills them in your head. Sure, they can be good filler for that briefly mentioned cannon fodder, but any character that has some importance to the story will have no original life in your head. Instead, use them to pick and choose details that spring images to life in your mind. A name, a detail, etc…

Now, once you have an image, what about race? Is it unique? Is it traditional? Are you sticking to stereotypes, or re-imagining a classic. I’ve thought long and hard on the Tolkien Elf, and want to rewrite them with a culture – instead of being an earthy, woodsy, people – based on feudal Japan, with warlords, and honor being a huge factor in the warrior life. They could keep that deep philosophical nature, but wrapped in a warrior culture. There is so much to be done, that it amazes me how little some things change.

Some people use a form. I’ve checked out a few by myself – not like it’s a bad thing – for creating a character. You can pencil in details and save them. Personally, I’m a discovery writer, meaning I learn more about everything as I write, not by planning things out, so something like this would change frequently. Ever had a character change their sexuality on you? That’s not something that you usually plan, and can make a strict character record hard to work with.

Among the many ways to characterize someone, appearance is often overlooked. The way someone dresses can easily define them, and this becomes increasingly important in various mediums. Does your character have purple hair? Why? Were they born that way? Is it a rebellious streak? What about piercings? Tattoos? Most people get a tattoo, not because it’s cool, but because it means something to them. It has to do with a part of their life, culture, or heritage, or whatever you want call it. Some people have one as a drunken mistake though. How did that happen? Do they frequently get wasted? Why?

You can’t forget background information. Sometimes a character had a tragic past, maybe a decent one, maybe it’s just your average person caught up in a lot of crazy stuff. How did they get there? Who are their friends? Best friends? Social circles? If they’re a real person like me, they’ll have different groups of friends as they get older. I qualify my friends into three general groups: hometown friends, engineering friends, and English major friends. The groups overlap in spots, and can get along fairly well, but they are very different people.

While it isn’t a factor on how well you write, I would suggest – those of you in the fantasy/sci-fi genres – to look at a Mary-Sue test. A good one will cover most stereotypes, and you can get an idea as to originality. While originality doesn’t make a good story it can be a useful reference material to keep you from making a Superman among humans (unless that’s what you want).

Anyway, I hope this constitutes a good general overview. I didn’t even touch upon speech though… Another day, another time I suppose.

Keep on writing!

~ Underdog

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About writing underdog

I'm an aspiring writer of fantasy and science fiction. I graduated from a university with a degree in Writing and a minor in Philosophy. I try to learn a little about everything. I hope to update regularly, meaning at least once per week. View all posts by writing underdog

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