Characterization (Part 4)
  • In the previous post, I said that to create convincing characters, the writer must first understand what motivates the people she or he is creating.

    This means that the writer must understand what moves the actions of his or her characters.

    The term “actions” in this context refers to plot — though it bears repeating that plot is not action alone.

    Plot is a sequence of purposeful conflicts that culminate in climax.

    “If they aren’t in interesting situations, characters cannot be major characters, not even if everyone else is talking about them,” said P.G. Wodehouse.

    When the writer understands what motivates the actions of his or her characters, the reader can then, in turn, discover what is the foundational motive and psychology of the characters.

    This depth of characterization, achieved by means of good plotting, is what takes literature from mediocre to serious.

    Characters in literature, just as humans in real life, can have conflicting motives. But even contradictions within the character must be consistent to the specific framework that the writer has created for that character. So that, for example, the reader doesn’t say “This is out of character: Hamlet [who incidentally possesses multitudinous contradictions] would never behave this way.”

    Staying consistent — which is to say, integrating a character’s conflicting motives and desires — is simply part of creating realistic characters.

    If Shakespeare were to have had Prince Hamlet express genuine love out-of-the-blue for his uncle Claudius, the reader would have been right to say “This is out of character, and Hamlet would never have done that. It is a flaw in the writing.”

About The Author

Ray Harvey

I was born and raised in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado. I've worked as a short-order cook, construction laborer, crab fisherman, janitor, bartender, pedi-cab driver, copyeditor, and more. I've written and ghostwritten several published books and articles, but no matter where I've gone or what I've done to earn my living, there's always been literature and learning at the core of my life.

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