A rare treat here on The Perpetual Writer – a guest post! The lovely Stephanie Beck, author of several tales of romance and erotica is here to share her take on characterization and tips that just might save on those dreaded re-writes. If you enjoy her post I can assure you there is just as much goodness and warm hearted humor in her regular blogging residence at Plot Mamas where she posts every Thursday. Welcome, Stephanie!
Pages are Flat. Characters Should Not Be.
In any book, there has to be a leading something or other. It might be a person, a location, an animal or even a fork. Whatever that focal point is, it is the venue in which the reader is drawn into a story. Lengthy prose and omnipotent points of view are, for the most part, out of fashion at the moment. I’m thinking fiction for the most part, but even nonfiction books have to have a central focus or theme that draws the pieces together. In fiction, which is what I write, I know the setting is important and can be a character in and of itself, and of course the conflict is essential to maintain interest for over two hundred pages, but to really hook a reader and give them something to remember, the characters have to be ones they can either identify with, laugh with or despise.
Some tools for building a strong character might be:
*Stay away from stereotypes. Tall, dark and handsome is super, but it’s also been done a million times. Same with ethnic ‘traits’. You might think a particular group would be a great joke or universal slur or even a flattering trait, but most often the writer just looks like a butt. (That said, sometimes for secondary characters, etc, the old standbys work and honesty isn’t a bad thing. If you’ve got a character who is a bigot, they need to sound like it.) Evil is also something that gets put in a box. Maniacal laughs and shifty eyes are only a start when it comes to what you can do to make a character truly distasteful.
*Use mannerisms wisely. A limp can be a very strong tool. It can show fatigue, can garner necessary and unnecessary sympathy and leave a lasting impression of the character. Just as certain physical ‘tells’ (nervous twitches, twirling hair, rubbing chin, foot tapping) can also convey stronger impressions than just the character’s hair or skin color (But don’t forget those! One day a poor casting director will need to have some idea of what you had in mind).
*Names. This one is debatable and I know it, but if I read a name in a story and just have no clue how to pronounce it, it’s a turn off. I end up calling Zosimos ‘Zos’ in my head and Anuenue Akua becomes Annie. I’m certainly not trying to be offensive to the very nice Zosimos and Anuenue Akuas out there or the writers who use those names either, but within reading, a name the writer thinks is exotic or special might actually be distracting. Just like naming every character in the story something very basic like John, Joe and Josh might have a mudding factor.
*What do you want your reader’s reaction to your character to be? Ask that question over and over throughout the writing. As the character develops, sometimes there are pieces that don’t fit with the rest. Depth without creating a mess can be a tricky thing to accomplish and sometimes writers avoid adding depth altogether. Not many want to read about perfect people finding equally perfect ones and having a perfect time together until the perfect situation ends perfectly. That’s any fiction, not just romance. Characters, real ones, are like people with warts and all. But when adding those warts, there are a few that don’t translate well.
Like smells. I’ve been told a few certain less than desirable traits should be left for real life. Anything involving unpleasant smells, for example, is better left off the page. Soap box opinions, like most opinions, sometimes get smelly as well. A hard or controversial opinion needs to be delivered with care. There needs to be a reason behind that opinion, it has to be clear and there has to be relevance in the story surrounding it. Putting a microphone in your character’s hand and blasting the price of tea on the moon when they’re supposed to be discussing mouse sweaters doesn’t work.
Of course more do’s and don’ts of characters are discussed often, and sometimes quite loudly by those writing different characters with different focuses. Philosophies are mighty different, but then, so are books! They should be. For every writer, there’s a unique approach to how they look at a character and that’s what makes picking up a new author or even an old favorite exciting. Still, avoiding some of the traps and pitfalls is a way to make the second and third drafts of any manuscript, a little easier.
You can find her releases on Amazon through this link; her newest releases are “Slow and Sweet: A Love Story with Zombies” and “How to Sweeten a Mother-In-Law” (a story just in time for Thanksgiving!).
A bit about Stephanie: Even before she understood what all the thrusting meant, Stephanie Beck loved reading romance. When the stories didn’t end the way she wanted, writing her own was the perfect solution. From ridiculous humor to erotica, Stephanie loves being transported within a story. When she’s not elbow deep in words, her husband and two daughters command her attention. After they are sleeping she knits or bakes cookies…or squeezes in some more writing.