November 15th, 2010



I know. I know. I'm always making you guys think. And on a Monday. I suspect there are laws against such things.  Humor me, okay?  So this weekend I started and then stopped reading a book at eighty pages.  (That is 30 pages past my pull-the-plug-if-it-ain't-lighting-up-your-life, rule.) My reason for putting myself out of my misery? I did not connect with the characters. Not a one. Not even the quirky best friend.  (She was more obnoxious than quirky.)

I've called the time of death on stories before.  *insert dirge of your choice here*  I'm always saddened when the life (premise) has such potential but it fails to reach said potential.  *sniffles*

I'm getting to the question. Patience. 

So, I started happens. What makes a reader to connect with a character? I mean, the character doesn't have to be happy-go-lucky.  I just finished listening to Wintergirls by L.H. Anderson.  Wintergirls is NOT a happy-go-lucky book.  But I connected with Lia.  I cared about Lia.  She didn't have super powers. She didn't make killer grades.  She didn't have a lot of friends. In fact, I don't think she had a living friend. (Her best-friend was a ghost.  Well, she was alive, but died right before the book started and haunted Lia. (Bumber.))  And the book before WintergirlsDracula . . . okay, Dracula had powers. But Dracula is not the first person the reader meets.  Yes, there is some serious creepy stuff going on in the first chapter, but that is not the point.  You can have creepy stuff and not care about the characters. (Theoretically.)  

Characters don't have to have special powers or a happy demeanor to draw me in.  However, they do need one (preferably more) of the following (I think, but I am rambling at midnight).  In the first chapter (or two) I like to see: 1) a character face an interesting question or situation, 2) a character face an everyday issue in an unique/interesting way, 3) characters with a strong voice (i.e., articulate, sharp, witty, lively, intuitive, astute, something...), and/or 4) enough of a character's personality that I could predict how s/he would fight, and what they would fight for (yep, a glimpse at a motivator.)

Like I said, I am trying to sort through my reaction.  What helps you connect with a character?  


Guest Post: In Which Terri-Lynne DeFino Talks Characterization...

When Tracy asked me to do a guest blog post, I asked, “What do you want it to be about?” Her response: “Characterization. You write great characters.”


Yay!  But what exactly is characterization? Long and short, characterization allows us empathize with a character. Or hate a character. If done right, a good character can sink us deeper into the story, into the world created for the character/s to walk about in. Done wrong, and even the greatest worldbuilding falls flat. But how to do that? I give you:


The Bogwitchy Guide to Characterization


1: Dialogue. Internal, external, dialogue is tied for the most important part of creating a character. Giving a character his own voice, a distinct, easily recognizable voice, is crucial. For example, same gist, worded differently:

"I didn't do nothing! It was Jaybird what did it!"


"I did no such thing, for pity's sake. It must have been your no-account cousin, Jay.”


You get quite a different image for each.


2: Tied with dialogue is how your character responds to situations. Is she given to fight? Or flight? Does your character speak out? Or speak when spoken to? Is he a clown in large gatherings, yet quiet in small groups? How a character behaves is as important as how a character speaks.


3: What is your character’s story? Character needs to grow out of a sense of place. Setting plays a huge role in Oliver Twist's character. There are plenty of wretched orphans in literature, but where Oliver comes from creates who he is. Where do your characters come from? Rich or poor? Loved or abandoned? City or country? Knowing these things will give you insight to his dreams, her fears, and how they came to be dreams and fears. Your character’s story will tell you how she will react to the plot you throw at her.


4: Names. What you name your character will set a tone your reader may never be aware is being set. Does the name have a short sound? A hard sound? A long, luxurious sound? Does this sound work to cement your character's traits, or contradict? For example: Giladriel is lovely, lyrical, cultured. The sound of her name fits her character. Frodo is a Hobbit--sturdy, practical, short and to the point. Yup, fits the name. But what if the character of Giladriel was instead called, Gertrude? And what if Frodo Baggins was Beauregard Gardersmythe? See what I mean?


Whether you name your characters appropriately, ironically, purposely contradictive, even invisibly, know why you've named your character as you have. You will know more about your character, and be better able to show that to the reader.


5: Description (IMO, the least important part of characterization.) We need a few details of what the character looks like--blond, short, stocky, a wonky eye. Unless their physical appearance lends something to the story, keep them as nondescript as possible. Captain Hook's hook is part of the story, part of his character, but the exact shade of his eyes really isn’t.

These steps are very basic. Each one will lead you into another, more subtle aspect of characterization. YOU, the writer, can never know too much about your character. Just be sure to give the reader only what she needs, no matter how cool the detail you’ve created.


So flisters, go forth and write great characters! 

Terri can be found here on LJ as bogwitch64 !  Her debut novel, Finder can be purchased at Amazon, BarnesandNobles, and Hadley Rillie.  

Once again, thank you to everyone who celebrated Terri's book release by commenting and spreading the word. The winner of the FINDER book giveaway. *insert drum roll*.... 

                                        **** gsemones ****