What a Character! Tackling Characterization

Part 4 of The Fan Fiction Experiment

After all, the reason why poets invented these stories was surely just this—so that we should be able to see our own behavior mirrored in these other, imaginary characters, which thus cast a vivid light upon our own daily lives.

Cicero, In Defense of Sextus Roscius of Ameria

This will seem like a no-brainer: a good character relates to your reader. But it’s not as easy as that. You, the writer of the character, are not the reader. What do you know about the filters and experiences of the stranger who opens your book?

The beginning of your story is where a reader is most aware of your ability to relate to him or her. He/she can become attached to your character, or the situation surrounding your character, in just a few lines. Make your character come alive for your reader, and he/she will overlook a few hundred mistakes to find out what’s going to happen.

Fanfic stories mean instant camaraderie with fans, stemming from personal relatability to fictional characters we all love. You get to tap into that emotional attachment when you write a fanfic about one of these beloved fictional friends. When a fanfiction writer takes liberties with the characterization of an original author’s protagonist, protective readers will jump down a fanfic writer’s throat. For them, the character is not “canon,” and that’s like lying about their close friend.

Charlie Chaplin from the film The Great Dictator
Charlie Chaplin from the film The Great Dictator (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fanfiction inspires a writer to develop crisp characterizations. When writers tackle these fictional friends I know and love, I get to see how much or how little the author of the original story included in the description of a character’s personality—and how much I’ve assumed. Developing an awareness for the details that an author provides about his/her characters means I can better decide what details I want to include or omit about my original characters, and how I want to convey those details in my story.

Secondly, writing from the perspective of your favorite book characters lets you practice allowing a personality to speak through you, not like you. Two of the worst mistakes in writing a character are the dreaded “Mary Sue,” which is just the writer inserting herself into the story, and going OOC (out of character), where the character reacts in whatever way seems to move the story along to the writer’s whim. Practicing characterization through fanfics sharpens the ability to later define and describe an original character’s personality traits so a reader will recognize someone he/she knows in real life, and immediately relate to your character.

Angry girl.
Angry girl. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Protagonists who aren’t perfect are the ones we form literary relationships with. You know the temperaments and quirks of the people you are close to in real life. And don’t you love them even more for that? It’s their humanness. Don’t short-change your characters by omitting their inconsistencies. Don’t be afraid to write about your character’s flaws. Let him make mistakes. Let her be influenced by circumstances. Let him make promises that will selectively be forgotten. Let her contradict herself. Allow him to adamantly assure himself that others are at fault. Let your character judge the people around her because we all view things from a flawed perspective. Part of developing a relatable character is learning to allow those rough edges to show. That’s what makes them lovable. That’s what makes a story real to its reader. And, yes, even characters of plot-driven stories need some attention.

Friday will be about feeding your inner reader.

(Disclaimer: These opinions are based on my love of character-driven fiction. You may hate that. You may hate characters altogether. 🙂 )

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Author: Rilla Z

I'm a scribbler. I write about this world, the worlds inside my head, and the world to come.

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