Some writer’s argue that characterization is the most important aspect of story telling, for without characters there’s no plot and without plot there is no story. The point of characterization is to have someone the reader can connect to and care about. Characterization is what draws the reader into the story. If the reader doesn’t care about your character, they will likely not continue to read or invest in the story. Another reason characterization is important is because it assists in revealing important information about the character which helps to unfold the plot.
It’s good to develop a strong relationship with your characters, major and minor alike. Really get to know them. In order to write your character convincingly you have to know them better than anyone else. How do you get to know them? Practice, my friends. Write them often and a lot. Another way is through character sheets to get the basic idea of who your character is. You will use characterization often throughout your story, so it’s very important to know how your character reacts to certain situations.
There are three main ways to convey characterization in your story: through dialogue, through character actions, and through exposition.
Using dialogue to show characterization is easy enough to do. It shows through the characters own voice how he or she feels in response to what’s happening. For example, anyone can see solely by Jace’s dialogue in City of Bones that he is a sassy, sarcastic, cocky, conceited, and, at times, narcissistic bad-boy heartthrob.
“ “Don’t.” Clary raised a warning hand. “I’m not really in the mood right now.”
“That’s got to be the first time a girl’s ever said that to me,” Jace mused.” (Clare).
In the above example, you can see just by Jace’s tone how cocky and conceited he is. Here’s another that shows how Jace’s character treats a serious situation:
““By the Angel,” Jace said, looking the demon up and down. “I knew Greater Demons were meant to be ugly, but no one ever warned me about the smell.” Abbadon opened its mouth and hissed. Inside its mouth were two rows of jagged glass-sharp teeth. “I’m not sure about this wind and howling darkness business,” Jace went on, “smells more like landfill to me. You sure you’re not from Staten Island?”” (Clare 353).
Jace is less worried about the monster that can kill him and treats the situation with a sarcastic humor. This plays into his cool, prideful character (you know, the one that’s the best, most talented Shadowhunter in his class?).
Besides showing characterization through dialogue, you could also show it through the character’s actions. For example, in The Aylesford Skull, a young toddler by the name of Eddie acts heroically when the adult, POV character, Finn, is about to be killed by an antagonist.
“Ah, no, Finn thought, as Eddie picked up a small stone and threw it at the Crumpet, missing him by a wide margin. Eddie saw a tree branch, then, and picked it up, running toward the Crumpet’s back, the Crumpet completely unaware. Eddie swung the branch at the back of the Crumpet’s head, as hard as he could swing it….” (Blaylock 315).
Even though Eddie is just a little child, and he can’t do much to help Finn, it speaks wonders to his character that he would still try by using whatever he could find as a weapon. Eddie is unaware that he’s really making the situation more dangerous for himself, but all he wants is for Finn to be okay. It shows that Eddie is a brave and courageous little kid, but it also shows he’s naïve.
The last way to show characterization is though exposition, by telling the reader how a character feels or is. The beginning of The Tell-Tale Start (Misadventures of Edgar/Allan) starts like this:
“Edgar and Allan Poe sat beside each other in the back row of their homeroom class, asleep. They’d been up late the night before, reading the latest in their favorite series, True Stories of Horror, and now they leaned shoulder-to-shoulder, head-to-head, together in dreamland. Like little sleeping angels…Well maybe not angels.” (McAlpine 1).
This passage is very telling of the characters right from the first line. First we know that they sit in the back of their class, so it’s safe to assume they aren’t the best students, and then we find out they are sleeping, again proving the point. In the next sentence we learn more about their character, that they like horror stories and we find out what their favorite series is. Then in the last line we learn that they are ‘not like angels’. This is a great example of how to convey characterization through exposition, but just remember to do this technique sparingly. Showing is always better than telling.
Check out Write Great Fiction – Characters, Emotion & Viewpointby Nancy Kress and Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott for more information on characterization.
Blaylock, James P. The Aylesford Skull: A Tale of Langdon St. Ives. London: Titan Books, 2013. Print.
Clare, Cassandra. The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones. New York: McElderry Books, 2007. Print.
McAlpine, Gordon. The Misadventures of Edgar & Allan Poe: The Tell-Tale Start. New York: Penguin, 2013. Print.