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Be a Better Writer--CHARACTERIZATION

These lessons, by one of our most consistent FaithWriters' Challenge Champions, should not be missed. So we're making a permanent home for them here.

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Re: Be a Better Writer--CHARACTERIZATION

Postby glorybee » Fri Jan 30, 2015 7:39 pm

Sibermom65 wrote:Here is a small selection from a story I've been working on that I hope shows characterization of Jonas through his interaction with his younger brother.

Benji wondered what Pa could have been thinking when he sent him here to help Jonas. His brother needed someone strong and capable, not a clumsy kid.
"Benji, look at me," Jonas spoke in his gentle voice. Reluctantly Benji turned his troubled dark eyes to face his older brother. "You can't lay down on the job and quit, just because it's hard or you can't do it perfectly. Since the Indians took me captive and crippled these legs of mine there's lots of things I can't do well, but they still got to be done. You may be wearing a man's body, but you're still only 13, and some things just take more time. You got to just keep pushing and growing, and someday you'll be plowing furrows straight as Pa's. But you can't give up trying."


Well done! The "gentle voice" was a nice touch, too.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--CHARACTERIZATION

Postby rcthebanditqueen » Sat Jan 31, 2015 12:19 am

I hope I'm not too late to join in this lesson. I'm gonna do like Sibermom and post a snippet. Characterization through actions instead of telling is something I have been practicing very hard lately, but I just don't know if I've hit it yet. (I also tend to break grammar rules with some of my cowboy characters. Just fyi. It's on purpose. :P )

Here goes. *nervous*

~~~

The raucous hilarity inside the saloon grated on Court's ears. He'd sooner be out there riding through that bucketing thunderstorm again. Coming in here was a fool idea anyway.

A skinny man in a drooping sombrero left the poker table and came to the bar. “They shore cleaned me out.” Grinning, he poked Court with one elbow. “Dunno how they do it.”

“Bottom dealing,” Court snapped, nettled by the intrusion on his solitude. “Anybody can see that.”

The burly dealer slapped his cards onto the table. “What'd you say, mister?”

Court's hackles went up. “I said you're a four-flushin' card sharp!”

“I wouldn’t do it, I was you,” warned the little man at his side, quietly.

Court drained his whiskey and smacked the empty shot glass onto the bar. “Man's gonna be a tinhorn cheat, he oughta do it right!”

~~~

I dunno. I think I'm definitely getting better at it than I used to be (judging from some of my really old scribblings :mrgreen: ). But it seems so subjective sometimes.

I think, from all the studying I've been doing, and searching for examples to compare, maybe I was starting to come close in my Challenge piece "Blisters and Scars". http://www.faithwriters.com/wc-article-level4-previous.php?id=49944

I hope so anyway. It is so thrilling to actually see it happen when you begin to improve step by step, and can go back over previous work to see the progression.

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Re: Be a Better Writer--CHARACTERIZATION

Postby glorybee » Sat Jan 31, 2015 12:30 am

rcthebanditqueen wrote:I hope I'm not too late to join in this lesson. I'm gonna do like Sibermom and post a snippet. Characterization through actions instead of telling is something I have been practicing very hard lately, but I just don't know if I've hit it yet. (I also tend to break grammar rules with some of my cowboy characters. Just fyi. It's on purpose. :P )

Here goes. *nervous*


Breaking rules in dialogue is perfectly fine. In fact, it's kind of a "rule" itself--because if you want your dialogue to sound authentic, you have to write it as people speak. And people don't speak perfectly. At any rate, there's no need to be nervous around me.

rcthebanditqueen wrote:The raucous hilarity inside the saloon grated on Court's ears. He'd sooner be out there riding through that bucketing thunderstorm again. Coming in here was a fool idea anyway.

A skinny man in a drooping sombrero left the poker table and came to the bar. “They shore cleaned me out.” Grinning, he poked Court with one elbow. “Dunno how they do it.”

“Bottom dealing,” Court snapped, nettled by the intrusion on his solitude. “Anybody can see that.”

The burly dealer slapped his cards onto the table. “What'd you say, mister?”

Court's hackles went up. “I said you're a four-flushin' card sharp!”

“I wouldn’t do it, I was you,” warned the little man at his side, quietly.

Court drained his whiskey and smacked the empty shot glass onto the bar. “Man's gonna be a tinhorn cheat, he oughta do it right!”


Well done. I really loved the phrase "bucketing thunderstorm (even though it doesn't have anything to do with this lesson), and some of your other excellent word choices (that DO have something to do with this lesson) like raucous hilarity, nettled, hackles.

rcthebanditqueen wrote:I dunno. I think I'm definitely getting better at it than I used to be (judging from some of my really old scribblings :mrgreen: ). But it seems so subjective sometimes.

I think, from all the studying I've been doing, and searching for examples to compare, maybe I was starting to come close in my Challenge piece "Blisters and Scars". http://www.faithwriters.com/wc-article-level4-previous.php?id=49944

I hope so anyway. It is so thrilling to actually see it happen when you begin to improve step by step, and can go back over previous work to see the progression.


This is such an important thing for writers to do--to look back over the old, not-so-wonderful stuff. I do it periodically, and it never fails to make me cringe, but the end result is always pretty satisfying. "Blisters and Scars" is a great piece of writing, with marvelous characterization.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--CHARACTERIZATION

Postby zacdfox » Wed Feb 04, 2015 8:36 pm

Sorry for the late reply!!! I had fun with this lesson and really needed it!!!!! Here's my assignment:) Thanks Jan!

***
Berry unfolded the Luchador mask, smiling at the crusting spots of blood. Looking across the doctor’s office he gave himself a once over in a mirror. He stood and flexed, aqua spandex sucking into the creases of his muscles.

“I still got it,” he boasted. He sat down, gently massaging the puncture under his ribs and bounced his leg relentlessly.

The doctor walked in eyeing Berry suspiciously. “Mr. Clay, the x-rays came back negative. You weren’t seriously injured. Though, can you tell me again how you were stabbed?”

Berry cracked his knuckles. “It’s like dis’. I ‘aint about da’ news calling my city dangerous. I’m Berry! So I’m like, ‘I’ma do sum’n’! You feel me?” The doctor only stared wide-eyed. Berry snapped the spandex straps on his shoulders. “I put the suit on, and hit the streets. Some chump slapped’ dat’ lady fo’ her purse. So did som’n.”

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Re: Be a Better Writer--CHARACTERIZATION

Postby glorybee » Wed Feb 04, 2015 9:13 pm

zacdfox wrote:Sorry for the late reply!!! I had fun with this lesson and really needed it!!!!! Here's my assignment:) Thanks Jan!

***
Berry unfolded the Luchador mask, smiling at the crusting spots of blood. Looking across the doctor’s office he gave himself a once over in a mirror. He stood and flexed, aqua spandex sucking into the creases of his muscles.

“I still got it,” he boasted. He sat down, gently massaging the puncture under his ribs and bounced his leg relentlessly.

The doctor walked in eyeing Berry suspiciously. “Mr. Clay, the x-rays came back negative. You weren’t seriously injured. Though, can you tell me again how you were stabbed?”

Berry cracked his knuckles. “It’s like dis’. I ‘aint about da’ news calling my city dangerous. I’m Berry! So I’m like, ‘I’ma do sum’n’! You feel me?” The doctor only stared wide-eyed. Berry snapped the spandex straps on his shoulders. “I put the suit on, and hit the streets. Some chump slapped’ dat’ lady fo’ her purse. So did som’n.”


Zac, thanks for this--it's a fascinating little character study.

I had to look up Luchador, and I learned something new. But then I was puzzled, because a luchador is a Mexican wrestler, and the dialect (and the name) you've given your character seems more like an urban American one.

The things I particularly liked: your character's leg bounce and the cracking of his knuckles, even the snapping of his Spandex--these all help to form a mental picture of him, as does his speech.

I'd only caution you to perhaps rein in your dialect just a bit, for two reasons. First, dialect in which such a high proportion of the words are other than standard English is wearying; your readers have to mentally translate every word and phrase. Second, when you write such extensive dialect, you toe a very delicate line between realism and stereotype, and if a reader is very sensitive, she may perceive it as offensive.

You're definitely on the right track, and I'd be interested in reading a story featuring this character. Thanks!
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Re: Be a Better Writer--CHARACTERIZATION

Postby zacdfox » Wed Feb 04, 2015 10:36 pm

Jan! LOL! I thought of the Luchador thing after I posted it... Though I, even being a caucasian, played with luchador masks. But for the sake of my character, it would have been great to make him hispanic. thanks for calling me on the slang:) I wouldn't have thought of that! I certainly didn't mean it offensive.

Thanks again,
Zach

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Re: Be a Better Writer--CHARACTERIZATION

Postby MamaShoshanna » Wed Jun 24, 2015 6:35 pm

I am currently writing my testimony. I need to take your lessons more often, Jan. I will do the homework on Characterization later tonight. I want to know how to make my main characters really relate to people. What do I do to make my character more rounded? Plus, if the first character is a member of my family, and it's told from the 2nd person POV, I believe. So, if that's the case, what type of character trait would my character have, a flat personality or a rounded personality, if she's only in the story as the main focus for the beginning of my story?

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Re: Be a Better Writer--CHARACTERIZATION

Postby glorybee » Wed Jun 24, 2015 7:03 pm

MamaShoshanna wrote:I am currently writing my testimony. I need to take your lessons more often, Jan. I will do the homework on Characterization later tonight. I want to know how to make my main characters really relate to people. What do I do to make my character more rounded? Plus, if the first character is a member of my family, and it's told from the 2nd person POV, I believe. So, if that's the case, what type of character trait would my character have, a flat personality or a rounded personality, if she's only in the story as the main focus for the beginning of my story?


To make your characters more rounded, review steps 1 - 5 in the lesson: telling what the character is like, describing the character, letting the character speak and think and act.

If the character is a member of your family and you're referring to that character by name or by pronouns like 'he' or 'she,' then that's 3rd person POV.

If she's only in the story at the beginning, she'll probably be a flat character, but that's acceptable for minor characters. It's your main characters that have to be rounded.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--CHARACTERIZATION

Postby JudySauer » Tue Sep 29, 2015 8:12 pm

Being held hostage at the airport by a blizzard in my Hello Kitty PJ bottoms and pilled sweater, I decide to walk around. Boredom has a tendency for my bad habits to emerge. The slightest sliver of boredom triggers my many indulgences, with food being the worst. When I am stuck, I eat. I have many justifiable reasons for indulging in comfort foods: hunger, anger, loneliness, fatigue, boredom, and illness.

“I want to buy this black licorice, chocolate, and soda.” No sooner than I exit the snack shop, I shovel it all down my throat while reading a gossip magazine. I know my eating habits are not the best but being hijacked by this blizzard allows me to justify breaking my New Year's resolutions. My resolve hasn't been going so well anyway. What are a few treats going to do, kill me?
Mercy, peace, and love be yours in abundance. -Jude 2 NIV

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Re: Be a Better Writer--CHARACTERIZATION

Postby glorybee » Tue Sep 29, 2015 11:25 pm

JudySauer wrote:Being held hostage at the airport by a blizzard in my Hello Kitty PJ bottoms and pilled sweater, I decide to walk around. Boredom has a tendency for my bad habits to emerge. The slightest sliver of boredom triggers my many indulgences, with food being the worst. When I am stuck, I eat. I have many justifiable reasons for indulging in comfort foods: hunger, anger, loneliness, fatigue, boredom, and illness.

“I want to buy this black licorice, chocolate, and soda.” No sooner than I exit the snack shop, I shovel it all down my throat while reading a gossip magazine. I know my eating habits are not the best but being hijacked by this blizzard allows me to justify breaking my New Year's resolutions. My resolve hasn't been going so well anyway. What are a few treats going to do, kill me?


Well done, Judy. You used the character's voice to help us get to know her, and we can easily picture her in her unusual traveling outfit.

Here's a suggestion: Take a look at the first sentence of your second paragraph, when your POV character says, "I want to buy this black licorice, chocolate, and soda." Although that created a picture for your readers (and also activates our sense of taste)--that's not the way people talk when they're buying something. It's more likely that you'd just sent them in front of the cashier, maybe exchange casual greetings, or maybe say nothing at all. But I'm willing to bet that hardly any of us name our purchases for the cashier (who can see them, after all). So you could use that moment to show us your character's personality by doing something like this"

I pushed my purchases toward the cashier at the convenience shop near the gate. "Hi!" she said as she rang up my stash: black licorice, chocolate, and soda. I just grunted at her and walked away, tearing into the chocolate in frustration.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--CHARACTERIZATION

Postby JudySauer » Wed Sep 30, 2015 12:39 pm

Jan,
I had the same thought but couldn't figure out how to incorporate the binge foods. Your example gives me clarity. Thanks

Judy :thankssign
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Re: Be a Better Writer--CHARACTERIZATION

Postby Athayde » Mon Jul 03, 2017 8:01 pm

Hi Jan,


1) Here is a list of some ways that Junie is made to be a round character:

a) Physical and psychological description: "I was far too big to be carried"; "I wanted my mothers

lap"; "I was wildly covetous of that bassinet".

b) Dialogue: "It's got no arms. Where are its arms?"; "Does it have feet?"

c) Action: "While I worked at the ribbon..."

d) Thoughts: "I figured I could have it in my possession within a few days"; "I knew for a fact that

he didn't have a spoon..."


2) Here are some of the reasons why the character of the mother and father are flat:

a) They show no personality traits besides the stereotype of mother and father.

b) They don't change in the story.

c) They are used to support the round character and plot development.


Thanks for the lesson.

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Re: Be a Better Writer--CHARACTERIZATION

Postby glorybee » Tue Jul 04, 2017 8:25 pm

Absolutely correct (by the way, this was a mostly true story; I was June, and the baby was my little brother).
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Re: Be a Better Writer--CHARACTERIZATION

Postby Athayde » Tue Jul 04, 2017 10:23 pm

Oh, Jan! This is a masterful piece. I enjoyed every layer, from the beginning to the end. I fell in

love with Junie, and I wanted to bite her too! :lol:

My favorite paragraph: "I pulled my fingers away. "I won't touch it," I said, and immediately

began a plan for getting the baby to myself for further investigation." So cute and prodigious!

And the fact that it is based in your own story, makes it more interesting yet!


Congratulations!

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