Calle J. Brookes

Romance Novelist & Freelance Editor

For Writers

Two Legs of Strong Stories: Characterization

Posted by [email protected] on September 7, 2011 at 2:25 PM

What do you remember about “Gone With the Wind”? “Harry Potter”? “Catcher in the Rye”?

Chances are probably good that you thought Scarlett, Harry, or Holden.

The characters.

Stories stand on two legs—plot and characterization. There is a debate in the writing world about which is more important, but in my experience both are equally needed for strong, effective, remarkable books.

So how do you create characters that are capable of supporting a remarkable story?

There are five ways of developing characters within your story.

1. Indirect/Authorial Interpretation: This is one of the quickest methods of creating a character. In it, the author tells the reader pertinent information such as the characters height, age, personal history, career, motivation, etc. Indirect characterization allows an author to move the story to a more important point while delivering necessary information to the reader, but it runs the risk of becoming an ‘info-dump’.


2. Speech/Dialogue: Characterization through speech and dialogue does not mean accents only. Every person has a unique way of speaking, based on education, region, culture, and idiosyncrasies.  The rhythm of words, word choices,delivery—all play a part in creating a character who’s speech gives readers insight into who they are.


3. Action: Characters are more remarkable when they do things! Actions should be realistic for the character involved. A grandmother from Ohio is not likely to be able to diffuse a bomb beneath the Brooklyn bridge with little effort or thought.  Action in characterization also involves gestures or movements that are particular to that character. A certain tilt of the head, or raising of an eyebrow, or shuffle in a step can help flesh out a character into someone who is whole and believable for readers.


4.Appearance: A character’s dress can tell a reader a lot about him or her. The type of apparel can indicate class,history, time period, cultural affiliations, and even occupation. The personal appearance of the character such as personal grooming or outward continence also gives the reader information about the character without the author telling this information.Just be sure it's not overdone.


5. Internal Characterization: A character’s internal thought gives a reader insight into a character quicker than any other method. Thoughts are based on history, culture, morals, education, and other factors—showing a reader what a character honestly feels on a subject tells us who the character is and sets him apart from other characters.

These methods of characterization when combined will create interesting and dynamic characters—especially when conflicts between two or more characterization methods are introduced. Characterization conflicts can include a disheveled character wearing ripped and stained clothing speaking with perfect English about the stock market or the political outlook of a foreign country.

Creating believable characters is only half the battle to a strong story. Come back next month for information on Plotting.

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