From Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition:
Characterization - the artistic representation (as in fiction or drama) of human character or motives.
When you create your cast of characters, you need to make them 3D. Make them real.
But how do you go about such characterization?
Start with emotion. Your characters' emotions will drive them to action, will give them motive for everything they do.
But do this emoting carefully. If your angry characters do nothing but yell, after awhile, we'll tune them out.
Conveying emotion can be complex. You can use emotion tags: angry, humiliated, depressed... but if you can create that emotion more subtly while still conveying it, your novel will be much more powerful.
For example, say you want to convey loneliness. You could write:
"I'm lonely," he moaned. "No one likes me. I wish I had a friend. No, a best friend. Right next door. How come no one likes me?"
This sounds more like a whiner than anything, to me. Let's try again, with a tighter point of view.
He watched out the window as the neighbor kids played kickball in the cul-de-sac. He wanted to go out and join them. Oh, how he wanted to!
But last time, Sally had sneered at his clumsy attempts to kick the ball. And Henry had punched him in the stomach when no one else was looking. When his eyes had watered, Henry had egged the others on to laugh at him for crying.
And he'd run home.
is conveyed without whining. So is a sense of isolation, setting our
fictional character up to act on his feelings. Maybe by hiding more.
Maybe with angry retaliation. Whichever fits your character, make sure
you've laid the ground work with your character's traits.
Another way to make your characters in fiction writing more real is to pit them against higher odds. Increase the conflict and see how they react. (Yeah, my characters usually tell me, not vice versa.)
This is another great way to characterize your cast. Let them knock heads. Let them struggle with life's hardships. We'll know and love them better for it.
Just be sure you've made your characters' motives clear and logical. If John picks a fight with Tina just because you want to make them argue, your readers aren't going to believe your dialogue.
he picks a fight with her because he saw her snuggling with his best
friend, well then! He's got motive, doesn't he? And you've upped the
In many novels, character comes across both with your people's actions and with more mundane things like where they hang out and what they wear.
The teen who slops around in jeans that have to be tugged up every third step is saying something about himself loud and clear. If his nose is also pierced, well, that adds to his character as well.
The others he bums around with do the same. Characters are innately connected. Just as you're known as Robbie's mom, or Kathy's friend - and seen in certain lights because of those relationships - so is every fictional character.
From the gang member to the choirboy, giving them relationships helps you build your characterization even more.
So now it's time to create those characters. In living color and 3D. Just watch out which ones you hang out with!
Going to Press!
For practice characterizing your characters, buy my Fiction Writing Prompts ebook today!