Thursday, September 21, 2006

Lesson 4: Characterization

Whoa! It's Thursday already! This week we're reviewing Something That Lasts over at the CFBA, so that's why you didn't get a lesson post yesterday.

Today we are continuing editing lessons from the book Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King.

These lessons will be shortened overviews of the chapters and by no means should be a substitute for buying the book. I'm rereading but not posting a lot of good stuff!

Today we're going to work on characterization and Exposition.

A lot of writers seem to feel they have to give their readers a clear understanding of a new character before they can get on with their story. They never bring a character onstage without a brief personality summary. Or else they introduce their character with flashbacks to the childhood scenes that made them who they are...In effect, psychoanalyzing the characters for their readers.

It's often a good idea to introduce a new character with enough physical description for your readers to picture him or her. As with describing your settings, all you need are a few concrete, idiomatic details to jump-start your readers' imagination. ("A good-looking man in his fifties," for instance, is too vague to be interesting.)

The show-and-tell principle underlies many of the self-editing points we'll talk about from now on!

Another reason to avoid thumbnail character sketches is that the personality traits you tell us about when you introduce a character will (we would hope) eventually be shown by the way the character behaves in the story.

Also when you sum up your characters, you risk defining them to the point that they're boxed in by the characterization with no room to grow. You may be setting boundary lines that your readers will use to interpret your characters' actions through the rest of the book.

But if you allow your readers to get to know your characters gradually, each reader will interpret them in his or her own way, thus getting a deeper sense of who your characters are than you could ever convey in a summary.

Finally, for today...Sketching out your characters for your readers is just plain obtrusive. It's a form of telling that is almost certain to make your readers aware that you the writer are hard at work!

Here's something to make you laugh!

A mighty fire had been raging at a Texas oil refinery. Fire engines from all around had tried in vain to get close enough to the fierce blaze to put it out, but the heat was so intense that no one could even get near the burning oil and gas. Hundreds of fire trucks from far and wide had been called and now they all just sat wondering what to do.
Suddenly, an old fire engine from a tiny fire company appeared in the distance. It was the only truck from a tiny town and had been driving all night in response to this alarm. To the amazement of all of the firemen, the tiny truck sped right past the other fire engines and came to a leisurely halt right at the base of the fire. The men in the tiny truck leaped out, doused themselves with water from their own hoses, and proceeded to extinguish the fire.

The next day at an awards ceremony for the 6 heroic men of the tiny fire company, the Governor presented the fire chief with a check for $20,000.

"What do you think your fire company will do with such a large amount of money?", asked the Governor.

"Well," replied the old fire chief, "the first thing we're gonna do with it is fix the brakes on that old truck!"


  1. Soul Reflections said...
    I used that joke 20, no, 30 years ago! The good ones never die!!
    Bernita said...
    Description: Finally, one mistake I did not make.
    Ron Southern said...
    Good one about the fire trucks!
    Sandra Ruttan said...
    Oh Bonnie, you've got to know I love that joke!

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