Friday, April 11, 2014

Layers of Characterization

There are a lot of times when I read a submission that just feels like it is missing something. It is that same feeling you get when you have a meal and think, "It's OK, but if I had put in X-spice or this ingredient..." Most of time, I find that missing element deals with the characters and what we know about them. I think that many authors fail to really get to the heart of who these characters really are. Most of the time, we only have the basics of the character and that leaves the story really lacking in a lot of depth.

If we really take the time to look at your characters, there are a lot of places we need to go to in order to really get a true three-dimensional image of the characters. Let's work our way through this chart.
On the outer surface, we have that biographical information. This is the basic information that we start with. Obviously we have the physical descriptions of the characters but this would also include information on their career, their back story and so forth. For the most part, most authors have nailed this one.

On the next ring in, we get the information about the character from the other characters in the book. This will come from what they see in the person. In romance novels this is where we get the descriptions coming from the hero about the heroine and visa-versa. This level is interesting because we start to get an idea of what other see in the character. This is also a chance to see a difference in what the character is trying to get across and what the character is really like. It is really this layer and the next two that give us a great insight into the characters. We learn a lot in this layer of what the other characters decide to focus on and what they ignore. Keep this consistent with your individual characters GMC!

When we hit the third level in, we are seeing the character through the filters of the external characters. This is not just the descriptions of what the other characters make, but also their thoughts and interpretations of those descriptions. Your external characters will place a value on the other characters. This may be correct or it may be completely off the mark! Still we want to see those thoughts.

When we hit the fourth level, we are back to the actual character. It is this level that we really see a lot of introspection. This is the information that the character is keeping private and only releases this information when they are ready to. This is also where we learn how the character is feeling about the situations going on around them. It is key that you really work with this information and play it off of the the prior layers. We want to see when your characters is either holding back key pieces of information, or may be even lying about those feelings and emotions to protect something or someone.

The final layer is really the most difficult to pinpoint. This information is material that you know as the author but the character has yet discovered it. You have to think this information through before starting. It cannot come as a surprise to you. As the author, it is your job to move the character into situations that forces this material to the surface. What is interesting about this layer is that the information might just move up one layer into something that is consciously known about the character but unwilling to reveal, or, it might be information that comes out and it is the other character that spots it first and then makes it known to the character.

The key to all of this is to make sure we develop those main characters into three dimensional beings. The more real they become, the better the chance the reader will be able to relate to the character and their situations. 

1 comment:

  1. I've never seen a better post on characterization. This one's going in the toolbox!