The Lazy Mans Guide To Great Characterization

The Lazy Mans Guide To Great Characterization

One subject arising whenever writers gather to​ discuss their craft is​ the mining of​ life itself for story material. While a​ vital and important technique, it​ is​ important to​ remember that real human beings are impossibly complex, far too complicated to​ serve as​ story characters without major modification. The most complex character in​ all of​ western fiction (arguably), Hamlet, is​ still only 1% as​ complex as​ a​ real human being.

One must remember that there is​ a​ unity between character and plot: they are, in​ essence, two sides of​ a​ single coin. Plot is​ what a​ character does in​ a​ given situation. a​ plot must empty a​ character out, give us everything we need to​ know about the lead, or​ the story situation hasn't been thought through very well.

In life, it​ is​ reasonable to​ take the position that we are what we do. True, this is​ not ALL that we are, but what we do is​ closer to​ this essence than what we "think" we are, or​ what others define us as. Everyone knows that we judge each other on our actions, and it​ is​ childish to​ pretend otherwise.

We learn to​ characterize by formulating a​ theory of​ human nature, and then testing it​ against the people around us--our family and friends. You should be prepared to​ defend this theory in​ conversation and literary debate. After all, there are only two basic questions being addressed in​ all of​ fiction:

1) What is​ it​ to​ be human?
2) What is​ the ethical structure of​ the universe?

Whatever your own theory is, you should understand it​ from every direction, and be able to​ apply it​ to​ understand your own strengths and weaknesses.

Look at​ the three major areas of​ human life: body, mind, and spirit. What does your body say about you? Believe me, it​ says worlds about your values, discipline, emotional health, habit patterns and more. What does your career say about you? Are you operating at​ full efficiency there? Do you complain about money troubles, but not do anything about it? Do you dream, but not perform? or​ are you working at​ a​ job that you would continue to​ do even if​ you won the lottery? to​ me, this is​ a​ major sign of​ an​ active, healthy intellect--the ability to​ do for a​ living that which you would do for free.

What about your relationship with your husband/wife/significant other? to​ me, this is​ where you reveal yourself most clearly. You ARE your partner, flipped upside-down and inside out. if​ you like what you see across the breakfast table from you, great. if​ not, you have work to​ do. Remember: whoever you see over there was the best you could do. if​ you could have gotten someone smarter, handsomer/prettier, emotionally healthier--you would have. So take a​ hard look. Often, you can learn more from a​ person's partner than you can from meeting the person.

Viewed in​ this way, there is​ a​ lifetime of​ study in​ understanding the people around us, and in​ understanding ourselves as​ well. And a​ lifetime of​ potential stories in​ examining how people's flaws and gaps keep them from achieving their full potential. it​ can be painful to​ look at​ this stuff, but the only thing even more painful is​ being terminally untrue to​ your own spirit. That, my friends, is​ a​ true tragedy. Better the pain of​ awareness than the agony of​ self-betrayal. By a​ long shot.

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