Character & Personality

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Awhile ago, I posted on RRL about having the mehs with some recent reading. I thought I’d it narrowed down to the fact that I didn’t care about the protags in the meh reads and wondered what it was exactly that authors did to engage the reader emotionally with their main protagonists. What was it that made you care?

Then I disappeared and prettymuch missed and/or skimmed the follow up comments. heh.

But someone brought up the skill that writers such as Jennifer Crusie and Susan Elizabeth Phillips had in layering in backstory and fleshing out the characters within the first couple of paragraphs. I mulled over that a bit more at odd moments for the next couple of weeks and I think it’s key. Not necessarily the ‘how’ of introducing backstory, but that the bits of backstory chosen helped fleshed out the protagonists. Gave them dimensionality , or personality if you will.

Aside from pacing, author voice, and reader mood, the two things that help the reader connect with the protags of any story early on--and continually as the story/plot unfolds—is Character and Personality.

Character as in ‘type’. Not only the Hero, Warrior, etc, archetypes, but the clichés, the Wise Old man or Long Suffering Wife. They make for instant imprinting and empathy. Clinches become so for one reason, they’re true. Overused, overworked, and maybe not so valid now as in the past, but people recognize their verisimilitude to whatever degree.

A writer can’t stop there, though, you have to give your character-type *personality*. This is where you *don’t* want to be clichéd. This is also where author voice probably weighs in heavily--backstory, discerningly dolled out, dialogue (internal and external) word choice, movement, use of senses and mind-set/world view, etc—is what makes the protags real. Makes the reader care or at least become intrigued.

Yes, conflict/plot is important, and pacing certainly helps, but only to the extent that you actually give a sh*t about the characters. The failure to make the characters unique ‘individuals’ with depth is what causes the mehs to either creep in or execute a Kosmo Kramer type entry into the story. “Here I am, Mr. Meh! Don’t even try to ignore me, it never gets any bettrrrrzzzzzzz....”

Character: Wise Old Man. Personality: Gambling addict. Character: Long Suffering Wife. Personality: Serial killer. Okay, so the Personality part of those examples aren’t really personality, but they way the writer portrays/introduces the whys and wherefores of those traits create personality beyond the labels.

So those books that were mehs, I think either didn’t established ‘type’ and ‘character’ soon enough or strong enough for me to want to continue reading.

And now that I’ve worried that bone to the marrow, I should sleep better at night, right? ;)
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raine said...

Good points, VJ, and much food for thought.

vanessa jaye said...

It certainly helped me, sort through some stuff with the current wip, Raine.

Shesawriter said...

Excellent points, lady. I'm in the early stages of a project, and it's just what I needed to read. Thanks!


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