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marta_randall
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characterization

[ Edited ]
Quick, without thinking too hard, name one fictional character (any genre) who jumps into your mind. These are the characters who live in your mind, characters who are vivid and who make an impression.

Then, think about why that particular character impressed you. Was it character traits, or the description of the character? The character's abilities or flaws? When you think about the character, what first comes to mind?

Post your responses, and let's talk about all the ways that characters can come to life in the pages of a story.

Message Edited by Jessica on 05-24-2007 02:51 PM

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Josh_Crowe
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Re: characterization

The first character who came to my mind was Miles Vorkosigan from Lois McMaster Bujold’s vision of the far future.

Miles is a well targeted character to his audience. He is smart but physically weak (suffering from a condition that causes weak bones). This is similar to most of the young nerds (like myself) who fall in love with the series. Miles shows the “nerds” that they too can save the day and get the girl.

If that was not enough, Miles is a man of action and adventure. He goes to all the cool places and gets to use all the cool toys. He is equal parts soldier, spy, diplomat and sleuth.

While all of that is some great stuff it is a testament to Lois’s world building and story writing that the environment can survive such a character. On the surface an undercover crimefighting superspy mercenary diplomat is ridiculous. Inside the story the entire situation is perfectly reasonable.

Miles is one of those completely believable characters, once you accept the fact that he is a Count’s son a thousand years in the future who spends most of his time getting into trouble.
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angelfly72
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Re: characterization

The characters that came to my mind first are from the X-Men series, Ororo Munro (Storm) and Jean Grey (Marvel Girl/Phoenix). I don't know why they came up, but due to time constraints, I'll only talk about Ororo.

I loved ehe character "Storm" because she was beyond definition and stereotypes. (Forget Halle Berry's portrayal of Storm in the X-Men movies. She sucked. Halle didn't understand the character at all.) When I was a young girl, there weren't too many strong women in books, movies or television. The women seemed to fall into stereotypical categories that I couldn't relate to: eye candy with no brains, vixens/femme fatales, harpies/nags, passive domestics and screaming victims. I particularily despised screaming victims, and I never understood why women were never shown doing something to save themselves. That's what I would do; even when I was a little I felt that way. And yes, this was before the feminist movement became part of our culture. I felt that if a a big ugly monster was attacking me, I wasn't going to scream and wait for a man to show up to defend me. I would at least pick up something and try to beat the thing off. It may not work, but I'll die trying. Chances are that a man would die inside the fangs of the monster too, so why wait for him to save me? Fighting my own battles is better than just fainting and becoming an appetizer for some hairy beast, while he's waiting for the main course, the man, to show up. If I survive, the man could join me in the battle and we might win. That made more sense to me.

Hence, my admiration for comic book heroines, particularily Storm. She didn't have to wait for a man to save her. She is perfectly capable of defeating a monster with her own powers. She can ride the winds, command a hurricane, bring about a snowstorm or blazing heat from the sun. More importantly, she controls her own destiny, and doesn't sit passively waiting for someone to tell her what to do with her life. If anything, she is her own worst enemy. Since her emotions are tied to weather patterns, she must keep tight control of the more primal urges within her. Anger has to be held in check or thunder and lightning batters the land. Extreme grief brings immense downpours. They haven't shown what happens when she is in the throes of ectasy yet, but I could just imagine! :smileyvery-happy: So she has to walk on an emotional tightrope at all times, which can't be easy.

But she is also very vulnerable at times. As a very young child, was trapped under piles of rubble during a collapse of an ancient structure that was being excavated. Both of her parents died during the accident, and she was stuck for days. As a result, she is extremely claustrophobic. And she lost her powers at one point. She had to come face to face with her humanity, and realize that she had a lot more inner strength that did not come from the weather goddess powers. She still had intelligence, wisdom, physical strength and endurance and a craftiness that came from lifetime of harsh experiences. She was able to bring those to the forefront when she lost her powers.

So there it is--a strong, capable female character with a painful past, tough existence in the present and an uncertain future. Good stuff, as far as I'm concerned! :smileywink:
"Think, think, it ain't illegal yet!" George Clinton
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bwfollet
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Re: characterization

The first character to jump into my mind was Rick Deckard from Philip Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. He sort of has this depressed, or rather artificial optimism about him that is masking some deep brooding sadness. The fact also that he wasn't top dog, so to speak, also impressed me because in the book it's Dave Holden who is portrayed as sort of the main bounty hunter, Deckard is just this average guy who isn't as good a bounty hunter. He also possesses this quality about him that gives the reader the impression that he doesn't really beleive in himself, and as a result his superiors don't beleive in him, yet he goes on and retires 4 andys in one day. The book says he got six, but he did sort of steal the credit for two of them, even after the other bounty hunter, whom I can't remember the name of just now, saved his life. That's the other thing, he's sort of like an imitation hero, meaning in the public eye he can be seen as heroic, but with the view we get of him we see that he isn't really that strong or brave. The reader also gets left with the unspoken question at the end, was Deckard really human, or an android himself? Over all I just like the way Dick built up that mystique about his character and that sort of artificial optimism in this guy who is struggling to find his faith and his humanity.
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WriterJim
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Re: characterization

One character that stands out for me is Paul Atriedes, the protagonist of the Frank Herbert's magnificent novel Dune. I loved how Herbert develops Paul's character from the young ducal heir under tremendous pressure to master all the details of self-defense, court manners, and strategic planning in a vendetta with the rival Harkonnen clan, into Paul the guerilla leader of the Fremen on Dune and finally into the God-Emperor of Dune (courtesy of a biological fusion with a sand worm).

Seeing Paul's survival and growth in an intensely hostile environment, where any misstep could quickly result in death, made his success as a character and person very satisfying for me. Along the way Paul grows as person, takes chances, and finally accepts the best of a bad situation, becoming Emperor even as he realizes that the religion he has spawned will become responsible for killing millions and roiling up the local universe.

Paul is truly the definition of a round character--someone capable of contradictory behaviors in the way real human beings often are.
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Josh_Crowe
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Re: characterization

FYI it was Paul’s son Leto that became God-Emperor.

Also it is worth pointing out that Ororo is black (or if you prefer Kenyan, just like Obama). The X-men represent the most multicultural group to ever exist in fiction.

In addition to being a female role model, she is a black one as well.
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angelfly72
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Re: characterization

I haven't read enough of Philip Dick's work, but I plan to correct that oversight in the near future. I find just the title alone, "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?", hilarious. And your description of Deckard makes me want to read the book. He seems to be very fascinating character, definitely someone I can relate to. Thanks for sharing that, bwfollet!

Angela
"Think, think, it ain't illegal yet!" George Clinton
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WriterJim
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Re: characterization

"Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep" has also been turned into a very good sf movie, "Bladerunner," starring Harrison Ford as Deckerd.


It's interesting that over the years quite a few of Dick's stories were turned into movies. Something about his writing is conducive to the silver screen.
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bwfollet
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Re: characterization

Blade Runner is a really good movie and I think Ford did a really good job of capturing the feel one gets of Deckard from the book. The story is also picked up after the movie in a couple novels by KW Jeter, and the author actually does a great job of capturing that feel as well.
I have to agree with Marta in that characters that get the most attention are the ones who have a lot of inner turmoil and they tend to be most popular because a lot of people can relate to them. So I guess the key to good characterization is to really get to know your character and what struggles that character faces both externally and internally. The one major advantage to having a story in writing as compared to film is that in writing one has that freedom to explore the emotions of the characters more deeply then can ever be shown in film.
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marta_randall
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Re: characterization


bwfollet wrote:
... characters that get the most attention are the ones who have a lot of inner turmoil and they tend to be most popular because a lot of people can relate to them.

Yes. But there's another reason: unconflicted characters tend to be a little boring, and stories without conflict tend to fall a little flat. For example:
John meets Mary.
John falls in love with Mary.
Mary falls in love with John.
John and Mary get married.
They live happily ever after.

Nice for John and Mary, but pretty uninteresting for the rest of us to read about. Even the most basic story lines embody some kind of conflict:
John meets Mary.
John loses Mary.
John wins Mary back.
They live happily ever after

Here we have a story: John wants something, can't get it, and finds a way to overcome the problem.
The s.f. paradigm is:
John meets Mary.
John loses Mary.
John builds Mary.


bwfollet wrote:smileyfrustrated:o I guess the key to good characterization is to really get to know your character and what struggles that character faces both externally and internally.

This is always key to the process. Why does John care? Why does Mary do what she does? What drives John to regain Mary (love, obsession, anger, control?) Who these people are will determine what these people want and how these people go about getting it, and that's the basis of your story.
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MasterWolfStar
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Re: characterization

The first character that comes to my mind has been my favorite since I first read the book years ago. Skeeve, the magicians apprentice from Robert Asprin's books of the Myth Adventures.

Here's a kid that seems to me to be about 14 or 15, who wants to be a thief. He checks out a small hut to see if there is anything worth stealing and sees an old man walking around adding ingredients to a brazier. This in itself is strange but what is even more so is that the brazier is following the old man around the room.

The old man takes the kid in and tries to teach him magic. After a couple of years they have an argument and the old man figures out that he has been showing the kid all of the work and none of the rewards to magic so he calls forth a demon.

As he is calling the demon someone bursts into the hut and kills the old man at the same time that he kills the killer which leaves Skeeve alone with the demon.

Progressing through the books you live their adventures with them and see how the demon gets the kid into all kinds of trouble and how the kid get them out of said trouble using his limited magic. You get to see Skeeve transform from just a young kid to a master magician with the help of the demon.

The way that Robert Asprin develops not only Skeeve but the demon as well as the other characters in the books is brilliant. He takes you on a journey that makes you feel as though you know the characters personally without so much detail as to make the books boring, yet at the same time you can't help but think...hey I know someone like that.
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marta_randall
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some commonalities

Miles is a well targeted character to his audience. He is smart but physically weak (suffering from a condition that causes weak bones).

Life is not a free ride for Miles, despite his family background. He has to overcome his own physical limitations in order to succeed.

If anything, she is her own worst enemy. Since her emotions are tied to weather patterns, she must keep tight control of the more primal urges within her. Anger has to be held in check or thunder and lightning batters the land. Extreme grief brings immense downpours. They haven't shown what happens when she is in the throes of ectasy yet, but I could just imagine! So she has to walk on an emotional tightrope at all times, which can't be easy.

Here too, the character must struggle to overcome or control an innate characteristic. Life is not a free ride for Storm, either.

... Rick Deckard ... has this depressed, or rather artificial optimism about him that is masking some deep brooding sadness. ... He also possesses this quality about him that gives the reader the impression that he doesn't really believe in himself, and as a result his superiors don't believe in him, yet he goes on and retires 4 andys in one day. ... That's the other thing, he's sort of like an imitation hero, meaning in the public eye he can be seen as heroic, but with the view we get of him we see that he isn't really that strong or brave.

Phil Dick’s characters are sort of the definition of conflicted, aren’t they? Nothing is obvious, nothing is simple, and nothing can be taken for granted.

Along the way Paul grows as person, takes chances, and finally accepts the best of a bad situation, becoming Emperor even as he realizes that the religion he has spawned will become responsible for killing millions and roiling up the local universe.

Here again, Paul has to struggle to succeed and has to accept the fact that his choices, ultimately, are both good and very bad.

If we look at all of these examples, I think we come away with the idea that a memorable character is complicated and conflicted, and that interior struggle is a major component of the tasks the character has to complete in order to succeed. These people interest us because they are not passive and they are not perfect.

What does this mean for your own fiction? Among other things, I think it means that you need to delve deep into your character's motivations and history, and think about characteristics that get in your character’s way. Often, the results of all your thinking will not make it onto the page as explanation or incident, but they will color how your character reacts to people and events, how your character grows, how your character can be defeated and how s/he can succeed.
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galenem
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Re: characterization

My first thought was Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz. I thought that might be too ridiculous so I broke the rule and thought more about it for a few days. Well, I keep coming back to Dorothy. Here is a character that starts out somewhat timid except when she is defending her dog. She's afraid of the hogs on the farm, terrified of the Wicked Witch. Little by little she grows into a person who is willing to put everything on the line for her friends and what she wants. After reading other responses, it seems to me that character building, the internal kind, not the literary, is interesting. We want to see characters, the literary kind, grow and want to know how they are doing it. I didn't intend the play on words but I think that, in itself, might be telling.
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book_worm
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Re: characterization


galenem wrote:
My first thought was Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz. I thought that might be too ridiculous so I broke the rule and thought more about it for a few days. Well, I keep coming back to Dorothy. Here is a character that starts out somewhat timid except when she is defending her dog. She's afraid of the hogs on the farm, terrified of the Wicked Witch. Little by little she grows into a person who is willing to put everything on the line for her friends and what she wants. After reading other responses, it seems to me that character building, the internal kind, not the literary, is interesting. We want to see characters, the literary kind, grow and want to know how they are doing it. I didn't intend the play on words but I think that, in itself, might be telling.


I don't think that Dorothy from Oz is a silly example at all, it is a perfect one infact! :smileyhappy:
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marta_randall
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Dorothy Gale

I agree entirely: Dorothy (the Dorothy of the books, at least) is a splendid example of characterization. And her character continued to develop through every Oz book in which she appeared. I know -- I had the entire series memorized when I was a kid. (Oddly enough so did my boss, who is in his late 80s and who bummed the books off a rich cousin whose parents bought each Oz book, in hardcover, as it came out.)

Oz itself, I think, is strongly in the fantasy camp.
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book_worm
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Re: characterization

I got to this thread a little late, it seems that characterization has been sumed up already but I'll add the character that popped to mind when I think of a memorable chracter anyway. It would have to be Dante Valentine of Lilith Saintcrow's series (Working for the Devil, Dead Man Rising). This character is memorable to me because she isn't perfect, she makes wrong decisions, she is stubborn (boy, is she stubborn). You grow to love her but at times she (Dante) makes you so angry because she chooses the wrong course of action rather than the one you want her to take, the one that will make her happy. Most of all I like that she has a dark past, and while reading the book you get glimpses of it but mostly it is a mystery. You can tell that she is who she is (for better or for worse) by her troubled past. It's not a happy life Dante lives, but she tries the best of it, she over comes so many things. You can feel evertying she is feeling - hate, love, rage, but maybe that is more the writing skills of Saintcrow. Dante Valentine also has inner tormoil quite a bit - her troubled past, feelings that she shouldn't be feeling for a demon. She is also a bit cocky, kick-butt. She isn't a damsel in distress waiting for her hero, she takes care of it herself.

To me that is a terrific character! :smileyhappy:
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vaughnnie
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Re: characterization

I know I'm a little late, but I must mention my favorite character, Andrew "Ender" Wiggins. He is a tough little genius with a ton of family issues. He's a good leader that constanly wonders if he is doing it right. He is forced into a leadership position, but he also longs for it, craves it, is good at it. Yet, he does not embrace the loneliness that is often found when one is in command. He constantly questions his abilities, his practices, himself. He longs for companionship and yet is doomed to be alone. All this while becoming a teenager.
Creativity is like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way. - E.L. Doctrow