Numerous how-to books are dedicated to the subject of characterization, a term which engenders the idea that some kind of formula or logic could be applied to produce complete, convincing characters. Yet this subject is the one that most troubles aspiring authors. One of the reasons is that there are a plethora of books and articles that almost seem to infer that there’s some kind of secret knowledge to the construction of characters, which only the initiated can employ at any time to produce personalities fitting a story line. Yet the amount of definitive answers is inversely proportional to published material about this subject.
The writing software market abounds with plot and story building applications, but we’re unlikely to see character-creation software anytime soon. The simple truth, and one that isn’t admitted enough, is that characterization is a mysterious process.
Take a moment to reflect on your own life – both who you were and who you are now. Was it a quick or simple process that made you the person you are today? It took years of parenting, mistakes, successes, achievements, failures, deep psychological and spiritual forces and a good dose of mystery. Do you truly understand yourself or why you do the things you do? So why should anyone imagine creating a story-person would be any easier?
That’s the reason why creating story people is a more helpful term than characterization. It demythologizes this important aspect of story-construction and removes the pressure to try to achieve success in the first draft. The secret of all good story people, like all good writing, lies in the rewriting.
But don’t let this news put you off reading about this aspect of writing. There are many good books out there.
However, it is good to remember that those articles and books that fail to help do so because they miss out on four important factors to creating story people – credibility, inter-personal viewpoints, building bios and letting the story people speak and act for themselves.
There are always questions about a story person’s credibility. But, remember, you’re writing to create the illusion of reality, not reality itself. Some of the most outlandish or unbelievable story people have become the most memorable – Luke Skywalker, King Arthur and Forrest Gump, to name three.
Credibility is a difficult quality to define. All story people are pastiches or clichés to one extent or another. However hard you try to create an original story person, he or she will be a version of yourself or someone else.
A useful method is to imagine who you would cast to play your story people if you were making a movie, then imagine that actor playing your story person. Suddenly, their peculiarities and traits come alive. If you cast Jennifer Aniston, for example, as a girl in your story your audience won’t know – as long as you don’t tell them, of course – but you will have a ready-made appearance and personality to use.