Friday, February 21, 2014

Characters In A Novel Should Draw You Into The Story

Book cover

The last few days, I 've been engrossed in Maeve Binchy's latest and last novel, A Week in Winter. This beloved Irish author passed away at age 72 just before this book was published. I have read almost every other book this excellent storyteller had published. I was hooked after reading one of her earliest books, Light A Penny Candle many years ago. As I read this newest book last evening, I kept pondering what it was besides good storytelling that made her books so enjoyable.

There's never only one element that draws us to the books of a particular author, as it's several things all tossed together that make a good read. But the one thing that kept popping up in my mind was characterization. Ms. Binchy had an uncanny knack of of introducing a new character in a story in a subtle way and before you know it, you're totally engrossed in that person's life. You know as much about him/her as you do your own best friend by the time you finish the book. She shows the character more than she tells about him/her. And yet, she is definitely telling us a story. Her characters are not wooden puppets; they are real live humans that readers relate to or admire or cheer on, or want to give a good shaking--whatever the case may be.

What's the secret of creating good characters? I wish I could say in one sentence what it might be, but it appears to be more than one thing and more than one way to create a character in a story. Some authors have a major outline for a novel, all thought out before they ever begin to write. For each character, they create a separate sheet with things like name,age, physical description, family, emotional makeup, lifetime events that helped form their personality and more. When the author is ready to write the first draft, they have their characters firmly in mind, they know who that character's friends are, what their hopes and dreams involve and much more. It's easy to fit these people into the slots where they belong on that big storyboard.

Others introduce a new character in their story and literally make up the person as they write. Some say they let the character tell their own story. A few will say that the outcome they had in mind when plotting the story mentally turns out to be completely different when they let the characters take over. Sound crazy? I know from experience that it's not.

What else must an author do to create memorable characters? In their excellent book, Writing Alchemy, Matilda Butler and Kendra Bonnett devote almost 50 pages to the subject. I've mentioned this book previously as one that is an excellent resource for writers. Theirs, of course, is not the only writing book that covers the subject of characterization. It would be to your benefit to spend some time in your library or bookstore or online at Amazon to find others that cover the subject. You can also google and find individual articles online. I have an earlier post about creating emotion in characters that you might like to read. It's titled The Pinnocchio Factor.

All writers would like to create memorable characters that draw in the reader. Read some of Maeve Binchy's novels keeping the characterization process in mind as you read. I think you'll be quite amazed.

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