Developing Compelling Characters - Characterization...

Have you given the characters in your story enough thought?  

Are they believable?

I would like to relate this little story I heard the other day...

We all know who Stephen King is but has anyone heard of Bill Thompson his editor? He was the individual that discovered the prolific writer.

One day back in the 80's, a young writer named John Grisham came into Bill's office submitting a manuscript for a novel called, Time to Kill. Bill was working for Wynwood Press as an editor at the time.  This was the first novel that John had written.  The novel had been rejected by many other publishers before John submitted it to Wynwood. 

Bill thought it pretty good and offered him $15,000 up front and they printed up a modest 5000 copies.  It never became the hit Bill imagined, and didn't even make, the advance money back.

John came into the office with another manuscript, called The Firm.  He offered it to Wynwood Press for $50,000.  Bill wanted it but the company said no.  So John went elsewhere.

In the meantime, Time to Kill was sold by Wynwood to Doubleday who, printed it in hardcover, then later by Dell Publishing in paperback.  

You know what happened next. The Firm went on to become a bestseller. Along with others written by John Grisham, The Pelican Brief and The Client and due to his popularity, so did a Time to Kill.

In 1996, Time to Kill was made into a movie starring Matthew McConaughey and Samuel L. Jackson. Then in 2011, adapted into a stage play.

What this all boils down to is: Expect rejection. This book Time to Kill, was rejected within the first few pages. Why? Because of the misuse of Characterization.  

Consider the characters in your story...   

  • Do you switch between first and last names?  Choose one name for each character and stick to it. Each new name should be a new character for the reader.
  • Have you introduced to many characters, especially ones that have nothing to do with the story? Eliminate!
  • Have you spaced them out or introduced them all at once? Consider spacing them. 
  • Are you using unusual names that become tedious for the reader? Don't make religious mistakes naming characters, Christopher for a Jew, or Mohammad for a Christian. There are a lot of Tom, Dick's and Harry's.  And Jane's!
  • Have you jumped right into the plot before establishing any of the characters? A story is as much about character as plot, if not more.
  • Are you using generic descriptions or stock cliches to describe your characters? People are apt to remember unusual things about people.  
  • Are there any unnecessary characters or unnecessary walk-on roles that can be eliminated.
  • From the beginning can you tell who's who? The protagonist, the others.
  • Is the main character likeable (people want to read about likeable people) or is he/she completely unsympathetic? People are multi-faceted, your characters should be too!

Characterization becomes difficult because it inevitably stops the action of a scene and becomes a form of telling instead of showing

Don't get discouraged. They tell us the harder you work at it, the better and easier it will becomes. 

Dog Brindle


Rea de Miranda said...

Can you give me any advice on how I should write my life story? I'm busy with it but my mind goes off on it's own mission reliving everything. And right now I have writer's block.

Katja Van Impe said...

Hehe... ;-)

Michael Estey said...

That doesn't sound like writers block, re live, re write. lol