Story Elements Series: Character
An article by Christopher Moore
Plot, narrative, language, setting, and character –all of these elements together comprise a story. A great story should touch on each facet. Today, we’ll be looking at character and what better way to start than with a textbook definition:
- “The mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual.”
- “The distinctive nature of something.”
- “The quality of being individual in an interesting or unusual way.”
- “Strength and originality in a person’s nature.”
So, character can be summed up as something original or unusual; something that intrigues, interests and is distinctly individual. Creating character is easy but creating character that’s memorable is a little more difficult. To make it a bit easier for you, I’ve complied three rules to help create unusual and memorable characters:
- Character is more than skin deep. Some YA authors rely on physical description, so much that they hardly ever scratch the surface. We get no sense of emotion, none of the natural mental and psychological reactions, and no real sense of who the character is. Yes, we need a sense of what the character looks like but we need more than just an unusual scar or a lazy eye.
- Make the reader love or loathe your character but whatever you do, make them interesting. The worst reaction is no reaction and remember, not all characters have to be loved or even outright hated. You have the words and you can manipulate the reader’s emotions into initially hating a character to empathizing with them.
- Capture the essence of your character. It’s all in the finer details; the way they speak; the way they move; what they move; how fast they move. Do they smoke? Do they drink? Tell a story through their body language and continue to develop the character throughout. Character isn’t like a painting. You don’t paint the character and go, ‘job done.’ Your character should grow and evolve and ideally, not be the same as when they set out on their experience(s).
Below are some of my examples of great characterization. I’m sure most will be familiar with many of these.
Proving you don’t have to be liked by the reader is sadist, mass murderer, and the eponymous “He Who Shall Not Be Named” aka Tom Marvolo Riddle aka Lord Voldemort. Gaunt, pale, and serpent-like, always accompanied by his snake Nagini, Lord Voldemort is powerful, manipulative and cut-throat. It takes a dark character indeed to split their soul up into seven separate parts.
The protagonist of Harper Lee’s famous To Kill a Mockingbird is one I can’t forget. It’s the innocence, the naïveté and the experiences that shape her journey from innocence to experience, developing her senses of justice and morality.
Margo Roth Spiegelman
I love how unpredictable she is. Whatever I may think about John Green’s Paper Towns, you can’t argue with a sassy girl with an the view of an outside looking in on everyday life.
Louise O’Neill’s Only Ever Yours, captures the mental processes of a teenage girl in a heavily-misogynistic world. We get a sense of who she is, which is at war with what society tells her to be. It’s how inside Frieda’s head we get that I find particularly impessive.
How could I talk about character without mentioning the self-sacrificing mockingjay? Katniss is a tough-as-nails heroine that’s capable of operating independently. Little gestures like her defiant gesture with Peeta at the end of the first book in the trilogy and her singing to Rue until she dies and her covering of the body with flowers really show her vulnerable side and convey her contempt for the Capitol.
Follow Christopher Moore: