Or Does Your Character Need That Flaw?
I know PBW is doing her left-behind and loving it series this week. If you’re a writer, definitely check it out. I will be.
I’ve been thinking and thinking what I could contribute (ok in all honesty I spent the weekend sloughing off AND thinking) and I really wanted to do something on characterization (and it’s sibling…Motivation). Then I hopped on over to Smart Bitches where there’s this whole discussion on overweight heroines, which really got my juices rolling.
I am not a teacher and I tend to work best through anecdotal stories–and I encourage you to share your own as well. Without further ado, I’m going to spend the week talking about Characterization and Motivation because I believe the two are tied together. For today I’m just giving you an intro and trying to get some discussion going, but we’ll talk about flaws and motivation this week as well.
So welcome to Characterization 101
At it’s heart, characterization is everything that makes up your character even if it doesn’t come into play on the pages of your book: The way they look, their job, their first love, their first kiss, their marital status, their bank account, their placement in the sibling hierarchy, their hopes, dreams and fears, how they think, how they perceive themselves and the world around them, and dozens of other nuances that go into breathing life into them and making them a memorable character.
That said, I have to confess that I watch way too much TV….(I know, big surprise right?) but I realized this weekend that one of the reasons I watch is…you guessed it, characterization. And the shows and movies I enjoy the most are the ones with great characters–same holds true for books BTW. Think about that for a minute. Think about the stuff you watch, and why. There’s a pop quiz at the end of this post.
One of my current favorites is SAVING GRACE. SG is a show that revolves around a female Oklahoma City detective who drinks too much, smokes like a chimney, nails anything that moves, and has turned her back on God. In the series opener, she’s drunk and she hits a man with her car, and then begs for help. God sends her a guardian angel who is, if nothing else, memorable as hell (pardon the pun)! That’s Earl. Over there on the right. Does he look like a guardian angel? Heeh!
Let’s get back to Grace…she is de-liciously flawed. And I do mean flawed! All of her vices make her interesting, but more than that, I think it’s the tiny things that keep her from crossing the point of no return that really truly count. Hear me out!
It’s easy to give your character big flaws: weight issues, baldness, rape, abuse and/or molestation, a bad childhood, a recovered alcoholic…whatever. But what you, (dare I say) must remember, is that giving a character a flaw is more than JUST ADD WATER. That’s right. It’s not just, “Okay I’ll make my heroine fat.” Who cares. Lots of people are fat. What makes your fat person so special? Why are they fat? Does it matter? How does it fit into the context of the story? And most importantly, why should we, the reader, care? Funny enough, my CP recently blogged about this.
Back to Saving Grace: In Grace’s case…besides all her vices, she’s fiercely loyal, and she inspires her friends to be loyal also. She doesn’t love widely, but those she’s close to, she has a deep bond with, and even though she doesn’t seem to care what people think about her, she DOES care what her nephew thinks about her and she loves him fiercely! She also loves her dog–a huge American Bulldog that’s s like her kid. In last week’s episode her dog got lost and she cried like a child and you really felt for her. Grace is not a bad person. On the contrary, she’s every shade of gray. Which is what makes her so human and so easy to relate to.
I spent the entire first season with baited breath waiting to find out what Grace’s secret was. Why she was so fucked up. Was the OKC bombing? Or was there something else? Something darker. I won’t spoil it for you but I will say I was a little pissed when I found out what her BIG SECRET was. I thought the source of her internal conflict was, well, a cop-out. A huge cop-out. WAYYYYYYY too easy. I should have known those damned writers wouldn’t let me down though. (I linked to the site…no spoilers unless you choose to go hunting for them.)
As they say, it’s all in the execution. Unfortunately, in fiction writing, well, in romance writing, getting away with characters like Grace is tough at best. Though personally, I LOVE flawed characters–I know my critique partners are snickering right now.
So back to the basics: Do you need to do character questionnaires to learn about your characters? Do you need to sit and have long dialogues with your characters and get to know them? No, but you can, if that’s what works for you. For some writers things like questionnaires are an absolute necessity and I used to do them myself. For some writers, it’s the joy of discovering your characters as you write that’s a part of what makes it all so fun. I do think, as a young writer, questionnaires worked for me, but I’m a much more organic writer these days (with the Caveat that if a character comes to me and wants to talk, I get out the pen and paper). If you want to see a questionnaire, leave a comment and I’ll shoot one to you.
Seriously, think about your favorite books and why they’re keepers. Was it the story? Or was it the characters? Think about some of your favorite movies and TV shows and why. Name that book and/or show(s), and whatever it was about those characters that stood out.
And do you do questionnaires and interviews or do you let your characterization unfold organically?
Second class is here: Did you load that gun?