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Character Comes From the Inside

Character:  What you do and how your thoughts run when no one's watching.
Character is more than physical description and a name.  Character comes from the inside and determines why someone acts in certain ways.

Characterization is the process of conveying information about characters in narrative or dramatic works of art or everyday conversation. Characters may be presented by means of description, through their actions, speech, or thoughts. The better the audience knows the character, the better the character development.

Thorough characterization makes characters well-rounded and complex. This allows for a sense of realism. In contrast, an under developed character is considered flat or stereotypical.  The problem with using an underdeveloped character is that it’s hard to stay consistent throughout the story. Instead of your character having a constant voice and staying in character, he will vary from day to day, chapter to chapter.

If the identifying tag (said Bob), is the only clue the reader has to know who is speaking, it becomes annoying pretty quickly. It's the job of the writer to build recognizable characters so readers know who is speaking.  

Short stories in serial form are the perfect vehicle to practice building complex characters. For practice stories, create a character's voice by building the personality and knowing the purpose of his role in the story.

Work with the same characters until you know them as well as you know yourself.

Don't birth a completely new character for each story you write. The more often you use the same profile, the better he, and you, will become. By the time you're ready to begin the great, break-out novel, you'll have the expertise of knowing how to build original good and bad guys from the inside out.

A Writing Exercise to Develop Protagonist and Antagonist.

Have your character keep a diary for a few days. For a male character, I suppose calling it a journal would be more manly. Use a subject idea from your proposed story or if you need an idea prompt, try this exercise.

Day 1:  Your character receives the first of a series of anonymous letters. He will write about how he  reacts to each subsequent letter and what he does, if anything, to find the sender.  Decide the  theme of the letter: love, blackmail, revenge, forgiveness--the possibilities are endless.  Start with the anonymous letter writer character.  You want to learn why they wrote the words and why they sent  them anonymously.

As the writer chews his pencil or taps it on the desk, they are searching their thoughts (or heart) for just the right words to convince someone of whatever they're trying to accomplish.  What you and the readers hear as thoughts reveals a part of their 'character' or the lack of--just like in real life.

This exercise will help build complex characters by getting inside their heads and learning why they  do certain things. They reveal their character as being timid, overbearing, or... ? 

Exercises like this also help improve the skill of 'showing' so there is less telling. Is the sender a harmless, timid suitor or a dangerous stalker? The tone of the first letter might be completely different from the last as he grows either frustrated or encouraged.

If you choose to use the love letter theme, will the recipient blow the letters off as unimportant, laughing about them with her friends? Will she be insensitive?  Intrigued (flattered)? Or will she be frightened out of her wits as the letters keep coming? What kind of  person do you want her to be in this story?  In most stories, the protagonist and antagonist are equally important.

It's important that the writer know what he wants the readers to see and feel about his protagonist and antagonist and that he works on that so it stands out, but stands out subtly, naturally. You won't  have to say 'he's a kind, but ugly man'-- it will be shown through actions and dialogue--and it will be believable.

As the character unfolds, you should notice a consistent personality pattern coming through. If  you’ve kept his role in mind, the voice will match. Is it formal, romantic, upbeat, straightforward,  funny, frightening, or...?   Is it what you wanted? 

When you move from the journal into the drafting of a  story, just tell the story naturally. Think of the story as a long letter to your readers, and remember; we usually don't have problems writing letters to our friends.  You reader wants to be involved in the character's conflict, and can only do that if he knows the character as well as he knows a friend.

One reason teachers and coaches recommend journaling and free-writing is that it takes a lot of prep-practice rewriting to develop a believable, complex story. Creating a couple of well-developed  characters is only part of what it takes to write a publishable story.