Holding Out for a Hero: Characterization

21 Jan

Who are your favorite superheroes? Why? My favorites include Batman, Green Arrow, Silverhawk, Zorro, and Ironman. They don’t have superpowers. They saw a need and sought to use what they had been given to meet those challenges they faced. They didn’t wait for a hero to come along. They didn’t pine away and wish for someone else to save the day. They got busy and became superheroes themselves. How is this useful for writers? Read on.

When it comes to creating great characters, here are some things to think about. The best characters are those the reader can identify with, a character with flaws and issues that he/she deals with and overcomes by the end of the book(s). In a word: change. The character sees a need or a problem and, over the course of the story, seeks to correct it. Writing books call this the ‘character arc’, the changes a character goes through throughout the course of a story.

In order to have a great story there must be conflict. Your character(s) must face some obstacles to be overcome in order to get to their end goal, love, victory, world peace, whatever. These obstacles can be external or internal or both. Just think about it, Jane Austen’s beloved Lizzy faced both Pride and Prejudice. (The book was well named.) In Swiss Family Robinson, the entire family had all kinds of obstacles to deal with, the biggest being simply surviving.

When you are creating a character, don’t stop with physical descriptions, get into what internal issues the character does (or does not want to) deal with. What are his/her flaws? What are his/her dreams? What makes that character tick? Also, put some more subtly in and bring to light issues the character doesn’t even know he/she needs to face, but will by the end of the book. It’s your choice as to how the character deals with these things. Does he overcome them? Or not? If not, why not? Do you want a happy ending or not?

Define to yourself what you want your hero to be and start a bit back from that. Your character’s goal is to get to ‘hero status’ but not too early. Let him or her fail and deal with that failure. Let him or her succeed and deal with that as well. Make your hero think. The idea isn’t to have all the answers, but to get your hero to face the questions.

When thinking about your characters, if you start with a frog that needs to be kissed, think about what led him to that low point in his life. Why did he get turned into a frog? If your ‘hero’ is a beast, how did he get there? What would it take for the frog to undo the curse without the princess? Or the beast without the girl? Can he overcome in another way? If you’re wanting more of a Batman type hero, what led him to don the mask and fight evil? Why does he need the mask? Or does he?

Another fun thing to do to flesh out your characters a little more is to do ‘character interviews’. Imagine you get to interview your character at some point in your book. Ask them questions and see what they answer. They just might surprise you!

Characterization is not the only thing that drives the plot, but it is one of the major ingredients that will make or break your story. You can craft terrific heroes with compelling lives that will entertain and compel your readers to never want to put down your books. Keep at it and you can create unforgettable characters that live on after you. Jane Austen did it, why not you?


Posted by on January 21, 2012 in Author in the Trenches


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3 responses to “Holding Out for a Hero: Characterization

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