Posted by: carolannwilliams | November 13, 2009

Complexity

I spent all day yesterday writing and rewriting different posts about characterization:  biographical questionnaires, discussions of how personality shapes French scenes (see Post of October 18), discussions of objectives, discussions of conflicts both internal and external, explorations of how to make a character interesting (in response to a comment on my November 11th Post), and various possible exercises. None of them felt right. This morning I awoke and knew what I needed to say.

Characterization is a complex topic, and characters who are complex are the most interesting.

Characterization is complex because it affects every minute of your story. Who the person is dictates what he or she says and does. What the character says and does creates the action. Action is plot. As I’ve mentioned before (September 10th), character is plot/plot is character.

Now, if you want a really interesting character to create that plot, you’ve got to make the person complex. No reader really cares about the sweet hometown girl who really is just that. Nor does he or she care about the evil land developer who just wants to grab the family’s farm. But the sweet hometown girl who is in turmoil within as she represses her simultaneous desire to get out and her guilt at having that desire is going to grab us a little more. If the land developer isn’t just greedy but needs, deep down, to prove himself to someone who years ago rejected him, we care about him as we dislike him. Now add that the sweet girl suspects she’s not really her father’s daughter (but of course never breathes a word), and the developer knows he was in love with the girl’s mother long ago, and factor in a chilly but polite relationship between the mother and father — and you’ve got a story! All that with just a couple of deeper elements in the characterization.

So, my tip of the day is: complexity.

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