Character and Characterization

March 13, 2010 in Novel, On Writing by pacejmiller

The heck d'ya mean? Character and characterization are different things?

So I’m catching up with my readings and I stumble across a few articles about “character” and “characterization”, which has me thinking about my stagnant fantasy novel and this new project I have in the works.

In both the planning and writing phases, I’ve been doing a lot of “characterization” – you know, what the character looks like, how old they are, their personality and habits, their qualities and follies.  But I haven’t given enough thought to the “character” of these…um..characters.

I’ve always had trouble getting into the heads of my characters.  I am quick to create them, but rarely do I put myself in their shoes, find out what motivates them, what frightens them – what they are truly about.  According to this McKee article I read:

TRUE CHARACTER is revealed in the choices of a human being makes under pressure – the greater the pressure, the deeper the revelation, the truer the choice to the character’s essential nature.

Yes, he’s right!  And then I realised that I actually have numerous high pressure situations where my characters have an opportunity to show what they are really about under the surface, but I never explored it.  Not properly, anyway.  No wonder I feel like things aren’t working despite what I feel is a good plot.

Another thing I’ve been wondering is whether I’ve been creating too many characters – so many that I don’t have time to give them the time or chance to get to know them.  Should I keep them and give them more “screen time”?  Or should I get rid of them completely?  It’s a difficult balance, and it’s something I have to work out by myself.

So three lessons from all of this.  One, “characterization” is easy, developing “character” is hard.  I need to start imagining myself in the bodies of my characters and get inside their psyche.  Two, true character is revealed through the choices people make.  I need to rewrite some of my scenes to bring that out.  Three, superfluous characters need to be canned, key characters with a purpose need to be explored.

Now I will go take a nap.

[PS: apparently, Aristotle considered the importance of both plot and character, and concluded that story is primary, character secondary.  Can’t both be equally important?]