Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

On Crafting a Piece of Fiction (2): Characterization

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On Crafting a Piece of Fiction (2): Characterization

How to Create Characters who Breathe on the Page?

When readers don’t sympathize with the characters, they lose interest in following the story. That’s why character is a fundamental element of fiction.
Characterization is a craft, it is a very delicate job when you don’t want to “tell” your reader who the character is, rather you want to let them figure it out on their own. Isn’t it what all the creative writing workshops promote: show, don’t tell? But, how?
You have three ways to reveal your character’s personality gradually and cleverly without hitting your reader in the head by what they already know.

1. Through dialogues

In life, we get to know people when they talk. This includes observing their facial and hand gestures and overall body language, what they wear, how they look at you, how they laugh, whether they smile, etc.

Get your main character interact with other. Look at how they respond to an unpredictable situation, an unpleasant comment. What language they use (sophisticated? General? Vulgar?), tone (friendly? formal? Inconsiderate?), sentence structure (long and complex sentences, short sentences and phrases).

This is a great example of how a master of characterization, William Faulkner, characterizes Emily in the short story, “A Rose for Emily.”

"She did not ask them to sit. She just stood in the door and listened quietly until the spokesman came to a stumbling halt. Then they could hear the invisible watch ticking at the end of the gold chain.
Her voice was dry and cold. “I have no taxes in Jefferson. Colonel Sartoris explained it to me. Perhaps one of you can gain access to the city records and satisfy yourselves.”
“But we have. We are the city authorities, Miss Emily. Didn’t you get a notice from the sheriff, signed by him?”
“I received a paper, yes," Miss Emily said. "Perhaps he considers himself the sheriff . . . I have no taxes in Jefferson.”
“But there is nothing on the books to show that, you see. We must go by the—”
“See Colonel Sartoris. I have no taxes in Jefferson.”
“But, Miss Emily—”
“See Colonel Sartoris.” (Colonel Sartoris had been dead almost ten years.) “I have no taxes in Jefferson. Tobe!” The Negro appeared. “Show these gentlemen out.”

Can you count how many points you learn about Emily through this dialogue?

Stay tuned for the rest of the tips,

Happy Characterizing, ;)

Ava Homa

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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