Friday, August 31, 2012

The Secret to Characterization -- Rowling and Dickens

You can have the best plot and world-building  but if you have no Frodo or no Harry, your book will be lost in time. PLOTS ARE NOT EPIC -- CHARACTERS ARE. This is probably the biggest 'secret' to writing (and I gave it away for free!). Of course, in fiction whose main purpose is to inform, characters aren't vital -- I'm thinking of The DaVinci Code.  Maybe To Kill a Mockingbird (even though I loved the characters). Animal Farm too. 1984? Sigh. Writing and its exceptions.

BUT, for the MOST part.... (Geez.)

You need lovable and memorable characters. It is agonizing to see "Mary" and "Sam" and "Bertha" and "Guadalupe" in one page, and being forced to flip back a few pages to see who Sam was.

Step One of the Secret

Make your characters memorable.
Step Two of the Secret
Make them lovable.
"How?" do you ask? I'll tell ya.


I know, I know. When I first read this, I was like, "Quirks, that's so amateurish. Quirks aren't natural to humans." But they are natural. My quirk is that I'm a Harry Potter fan (a crazy one).

When asked, "Who's SC?" someone will reply, "Oh, he's that freaky Harry Potter maniac who bought four wands and a set of robes," and the other guy will say, "Oh yea, yea, I know him." Quirks work in real life, but they are disguised as "reputation".

Dickens and Rowling are regarded as having the most fantastic casts of characters in all literature, and it all comes back to quirks -- quirky characters (and quirky does not mean comical. Understand that).

How else can we know Dobby, Sydney Carton, Mundungus Fletcher, Kreacher, Hedwig, Professor Sprout, Professor Flitwick, and Fenrir Greyback (sorry for all the HP characters -- I'm just diving into Dickens). We can barely remember the names of the parents in The Fault in Our Stars. (Loved that book, just making a point.) The more I think of it, the more I get amazed by Harry Potter. 200 + characters!!!

No two people are alike -- why make two characters in your book the same? It doesn't make sense (unless there is a reason for it).

Step Two (Again) 

Make your characters lovable. How? Quirks! However, your characters' quirks MUST reveal their personality. Don't make a burly man wear high heels unless he's a model or something. (Actually, that might be pretty cool.) Characterization comes first, then comes the quirk. (I am LOVING Blogger's style options!)

Step Three (Yay, a New Step!)

Give your characters motivation. This is the secret to 3-dimensional characters. Slap them with a motivation and you've got it.

The Final, and (if You've Accomplished the Above) MOST Important Step

Your main character must have an epic character arc (not necessarily an epic plot). This is where your Frodo's and Harry's and Dorothy's come from. This is HUGE. Everything leads up to this. We go through all your character's pain (and pain and pain and pain) because we love him/her (quirks). Then, WE can experience the same resolution as he/she does. This will create an epic hero.

Don't go too crazy with a quirk for your main character. Your main character can have a quirk, but don't make it blatant. We 'become' your main characer as we read; when we look at ourselves in the mirror, we don't see a quirk -- we see a human. We see the quirks in others ;) Make your book realistic.

And please, don't make your characters something they aren't. That's the secret to a failed character. Be honest in your writing, and everything I mentioned above will come naturally. Everything comes second to honesty. That's a big deal in writing.

Hope I helped guys! What do you guys think? Any suggestions to characterization?


  1. You covered some good points. Characters always come first for me. I'd add give them a goal. (Goes with the character arc I guess.)

  2. Very good post and makes a lot of sense. I especially agree with the epicness of a character. It makes everything that much more endearing.

  3. SO with you on this - I tend to write character plots instead of action plots (if you know what I mean), so I am always looking for ways to amp up my characters. I talk a lot about this in my Characters, A-Z posts (on hiatus this summer).

    This is an excellent list! Great post!