As an example of a good characterisation, I want to use portions of Jeremiah25's 'Strange Divinity' to show that intimate scene setting, details
and believable dialogue, all contribute to the art of characterisation.
“Yes”, I replied softly. “This is my dream”.
She said nothing, but bent down and ran her fingers through the swiftly moving stream of rainwater that ran through the gutter. She looked across the
street to where a mother was struggling with an upturned umbrella while her young daughter laughed and stamped with glee.
“Last year”, she said idly, her fingers swimming in the tiny river, “my husband was killed when a driver talking on their cell phone didn’t
notice a stop sign. He was a good man, a good father and a good husband. Why did he have to die?”
“I don’t know”, I answered truthfully, although I knew that she would not understand.
Standing up, she shook the drops from her fingers and put her hands in the deep pockets of her coat. Her hands shook and I wanted desperately to
believe that it was from the cold.
In this story, the author does an excellent job of conveying mood and tension in a very short space of time. While Jeremiah25 has achieved the tricky
act of making it look simple, he had to first ensure the characters were compelling and believable - not only to his readers - but to one another.
This only works because both the dreamer and the woman are two DISTINCT characters. I am stating the obvious, but it is amazing how many times I've
read stories with 3 or 4 characters, and they ALL sounded and looked the same.
Make them sound, look and be different. The whole joy of inventing characters is what makes writing so much fun. Have a think about your favourite
characters in books and films, they are invariabley those strange, quirky types that stay on your mind right? The bland, boring ones just fade into
Leading us through a narrative
Here, we are immediately put in the position of wanting to know more about the two main protaganists, allowing the writer to unravel his story as he
sees fit. Once he has hooked
us with his intruiging woman and the strange dreamer, we will follow him along wherever he takes us.
This is what is known as 'Character Driven narrative.'
Another thing the writer does very well is provide little details to enhance his scene and add an air of realism to his writing.
Notice how his female character effectively uses the elements around her in her dialogue and descriptions:
She said nothing, but bent down and ran her fingers through the swiftly moving stream of rainwater that ran through the gutter. She looked
across the street to where a mother was struggling with an upturned umbrella while her young daughter laughed and stamped with glee.
The little details make her stand out, rather than remain a 2 dimensional cut-out. Also, it allows the reader to start forming a visual image of the
character, which is invaluable. The details are subtle and give just the right amount to make it memorable. Readers are more likely to 'buy' the
woman as a real person, than if she had just appeared, parroted some dialogue and departed again.
This is another way in which to get your readers inside the head of your characters.
I was silent for a moment. Part of me was considering constructing some lie, some deception that would give her hope, give her meaning and purpose.
But another part of me decided that she had earned the truth, or what I, in my own understanding, held to be the truth. It was this part of me that
All of a sudden, we understand the dreamer so much better. We understand what he is saying and what he is not saying. Sometimes being TOO subtle has
its disadvantages and we don't comprehend what the characters are doing - sometimes a few well thought-out lines (as in this example) can help
readers understand the motivations and desires of our characters.
To recap we have seen a good example of using details, believable characters and inner dialogue in the quest to make a good story.
I hope to next time bring you an example of ineffective characterisation. If anyone is brave enough to want to submit a piece to be critiqued, please
U2 me. Otherwise, I will be forced to use one of my own non-working pieces which will be scary - so I'm warning you now (forewarned and all) please
send something else for your own good.
Also, anyone wanting to elaborate or disagree about this story or the subject of characterisation, feel free to pitch in. The writer may also want to
weigh in with some 'behind the scenes' type stuff about anything he specifically included or didn't.
[edit on 4-10-2005 by nikelbee]