Saturday, January 16, 2010


So. Enough about me. More about writing! And, since it is now Saturday (the day I know I shall be able to post relatively regularly), 'tis time for a writing post, methinks.

I know that my characterization is one thing I can pride myself on. I still have a great deal to work on, of course (such as overuse of adverbs) but I do like the way I create my characters. I think part of that reason is that they have a tendency to come to me. Generally, what happens is that I get an idea for a character - they come looking more or less the way they're going to look - and they will say to me "hello, I have a story to tell. Give me a name and I'll tell you." (A note: I very frequently call my characters 'the voices in my head.' Partially because it's more or less the truth, and partially because it's fun freaking people out that way.)

Then I give the new character a name. I really ought to have a post just on naming, because naming characters is a HUGE part of making them who they are for me. I agonize over names, and I absolutely despise changing them (I just had to Frenchify a whole bunch of names for A Bridge to War, and I dread being interviewed about it now because I know I am going to say 'Freda' when I mean 'Amelie' (the new name) and whoever's talking to me is going to think I'm crazy for not knowing my own characters' names). Because to me, a character doesn't become real until they have a name that suits their appearance and personality. Sometimes just their appearance, and I'll later build their personality around that and their name.

The latter works especially well with minor characters. For example, my one MC's (Avar's) younger cousin Sergei. I knew Avar needed a cousin, and I love the name Sergei. I knew more or less what he would look like, and Sergei seemed to fit quite well. Later, as I began to write him into the story, his personality took shape around that, and he became a springy, cheerful, excitable twelve-year-old boy.

I'll often use minor characters to heighten the characterization of my MC's. Avar's girlfriend Nayiri for example, is present solely for characterization purposes (and because she's so awful she's fantastic), and she does a lot to highlight Avar and Rose, especially when it comes to their eventual relationship. *snicker*

In any case. Sometimes if I'm really stuck, I'll do one of those character meme things you see floating around the internet sometimes. Often, they don't help me much at all. (Admittedly, the questions about "what is your MC's greatest fear?" and suchwhat are pretty useful.) Partially because I utterly fail at writing in the modern day, so questions like "what is your MC's favorite TV show?" and "what flavor of ice cream does your MC like best?" are utterly useless. But partially because the answers to questions like "what is your MC's favorite food?" or "what is your MC's favorite color?" is "I don't know."

I know my characters the way I know my best friend. I don't know what her favorite color is (although I have recently discovered she likes black and pen and ink drawings; not her favorite color though). I don't know what her favorite food is (tea is a beverage so that doesn't count; whenever I'm asking her what kind of food she wants, she'll just have whatever I'm having). I probably should, but you know what? I don't think it matters. I still know her.

By that, I mean I know what expression she's making when she's talking to me on the phone. I finish half her sentences for her. I know the kinds of things she's liable to say, the kind of gestures she's liable to make, the way she'll probably react to certain things. I know what makes her specifically her, and I know it very well. It's that kind of knowing you need to achieve for characters. They need to not be words on a page; they need to be real people, and you need to know them very well, the way you would a best friend. You need to know them well enough that you would feel comfortable telling them all your secrets, so that they will tell you theirs. That's how I write characters, really. Once they're real people, it's hard to make them inconsistent with themselves, because you know how they would react to the things you're throwing at them (namely plot).

And besides, if a character doesn't seem real to the person who created him or her, why should the rest of the world believe it?

I'd love to hear your thoughts on characterization. Am I spot on? Completely out to lunch? How do you guys do it? Do please let me know.


  1. You are spot on with characterization!

    Everything you described, I go through the same thing.

    Amazing post!

    Pssst. I also tell people I hear voices in my head just to freak them out ;)


  2. Amna, you are the coolest person ever. I thought I was the only one who did that! :)