Thursday, January 11, 2007

Thoughts On Characterization

I'm trying to go deeper into my character's thoughts and feelings. So what I want to blog about is what makes people tick. There are so many factors to why we do what we do. Brings to mind Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs chart. You know the drill, how you start with your basic needs like food and shelter (at the bottom of the pyramid,) and then move on up to more emotional things like "need to be loved," "need to be accepted," etc,...

I'm thinking my heroine has a need to pull people together, to nurture, to "get things straight" for people. She really wants her family to be as "whole" as their rather disfunctional group can be. She wants Mayberry. Hey, it strikes me, suddenly, that even Andy had a sort of strange little family. He had Aunt Bea, his aunt, instead of his wife, who was dead or something. And wasn't Barney sort of like a family member? What about Otis? He lived with them in the jail, and Aunt Bea brought him lunch, and he was allowed to come and go with the jail key, as if he were the errant teenager in the family. So that begs the deeper question, "Are we striving for things that don't really even exist?" If Mayberry wasn't even utopia, what is? Is there really such a thing as a perfect family? Some might say, "Only in fiction." But shouldn't fiction reflect reality, if it is to be believed? Even in fantasy fiction, for us to love Luke Skywalker, we have to read or see him as someone like us.

My hero is an easier character to draw. He's the tortured soul, hurting from losing a child, his marriage, his home, his life as he knew it. Knocked down to his knees, he has to pull himself back up.The heroine can't do that for him. Isn't that strange how we have to help ourselves a lot of the time? We won't listen to others. We have to fall down and then pull ourselves back up. Reminds me of Dr. Phil's recent shows, where he had people on who wanted their spouses to lose weight, or be better parents this year, or be sexier, or whatever. Dr. Phil's very important advice? "You can't make someone else's resolutions for them."

AHA! Epiphany!! We have to grow ourselves. Characters have to grow themselves. And the more stubborn they are about it, I'm betting the better story is. Those are the ones where the reader goes, "Come on! Figure it out, you boob! She loves you! You love her! Get to that happily ever after."

"In due time," the characters say, glaring back at the reader. "Read on."

Ooh. I sure hope I can remember this as I go on with this manuscript. I really want these characters to pull my reader through the story.

I just got *another* reference book for my permanent shelves. Concerning beginnings of stories, the author says you must really pull the reader in in the first 100 pages. Give them something that makes it hard to put the book down. Keep them reading.

I'm keeping that in mind while I revise this beginning. The first chapter is the most important chapter, I think. It sets up the entire story. It's the hook, it's the intro of the characters and their goals, and it's the beginning of the plot. It's the taste for the writer's style, flare, voice. Will you like it? Will you want to read this author again? You decide that so quickly, it's scary.

I read M.C.Beaton over Christmas. The author lives in the Cotswalds in England and writes cozy mysteries. Her main character in this books I read is Hamish Macbeth, a likable, laid-back Scottish Highlands detective. I like her Agatha Raisin mystery series, too. Anyway, murders happen around Detective Macbeth. He solves them with an air of ease. The author has a way of making even the drawn-out parts (what writers refer to as the "sagging middle") interesting. I love the way you get to know quite a cast of characters rather well. I like to write that way, to play the people off each other so the interactions show glimpses of all of them.

To sum up my thoughts for the day on characters, I think the more complex they are, the more the author must work at laying out a simple story with clear goals. Things can get convoluted, which confuses the reader. What makes a good character? Well, what makes a good person? Someone who has goals and desires, is spiritual, kind, willing, trusting, a survivor, one who pitches in and rolls up his/her sleeves, and on and on. That's what makes a good character. Well-rounded, but definable.

Isn't that one of the most basic needs? Doesn't creating a character boil down to knowing who they are? Doesn't life boil down to knowing who *we* are? What kid hasn't said, "When I grow up, I want to be..." and what adult hasn't asked, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" We're all asking, "Who am I?" are we not?

Another epiphany!! In life, you may not know who your are until the end of your life, when someone (hopefully a good writer)pens your obituary, giving tender glimpses of your heart and soul, and you're still alive to read it. LOL But with characters, we HAVE TO show who they are, in a thousand words, or 80K or 100K.

Dang. Why didn't I take up dog grooming? I'm pretty good with scissors.

No comments: