Sunday, August 23, 2009

Charaterization and You - With a Little Help From Jane Austen

Welcome to Kate's Sunday Special - on the menu today. The meat and potatoes of characterization.

What makes a great character? To me, it's not something physical - necessarily, but that always helps. It's something much deeper than surface beauty or the ability to buy anything they want in their world. It's the building blocks of their personality that usually seals the deal. There are a lot of authors out there who can nail personality so completely you swear the characters are actual people.

Who could forget the first introduction of Mr. D'Arcy. J.A. wants you to see his arrogance and pomposity in all its vivid colors. Without his "pride" there would be no story. His grand gesture at the end of the book - making Wickam marry Lydia - means nothing. This growth of character, the juxtaposition of the two D'Arcy's (before and after Elizabeth Bennett's influence) makes him a hero worth coming back to. However, we also learn during the course of the book via a servant that Mr. D'Arcy has always been a good man, he just never shows that side to the world. Interesting.

In Emma, the main character, the irrepressible Emma Woodhouse can't seem to keep her nose out of other peoples' love lives. Maybe it's because ladies of time, if born to privilege, had too much leisure time on their hands and had nothing better to do than meddle. Emma isn't a bad person, she just has the overwhelming desire to pair up her world in couples. Most of which are ill meant for each she later finds out. Again, we see the character through personality, and not necessarily physical attributes.

It's food for thought.

In my own writing, I try to establish the character of the person before I ever physically describe them. Laundry lists of hair, eye, and yes, even skin color, aren't as important as the soul inside the package. Though I do - most of the time write about reasonably attractive people - they aren't always necessarily one of the "beautiful people" on the outside. I'd rather my heroes and heroines' attraction come from something intangible. It's more captivating and enduring than mere surface looks.

Point in fact - while contemplating myself to sleep early this morning (I always tell myself little stories before I fall asleep - a hold over from childhood) I started thinking about physically imperfect heroes. Yes, we all know the ideal is the tall, strapping, mouth-watering, yummy tasting, hunk-o-rama but for this just go with me. I started thinking about what kind of personality transformation occurs when a person - who was once physically perfect - is suddenly thrust into a world of disfigurement.
Maybe something like a shattered eye socket that got put back together not as well as it could have. A busted nose that is so different from the original. How would he secure the HEA with the love interest if his sense of self-confidence has been shattered along with his face? Not easy. But we women can be odd creatures.

Sometimes, we can find men who are maybe so-so, incredibly attractive because of their character traits. (For a great example of this look to Admiral Adama from BSG as played by Edward James Almos - he's not good looking, but he's sexy as all hell.) -So, back to my disfigured hero - how would he make a woman fall in love with him. Nothing overtly, I'd say. He'd be too afraid he'd be rejected outright. Since the accident happened in his youth - no older than 18 or 19 - he's had to deal with the repercussions for years - 20 of them at the very least. But he's an intelligent guy, with his Ph.D. in the science field (research of some sort, I'm thinking) where he works in a lab. Maybe his partner on a project is a beautiful doctor and they have a standing dinner in the lab once a week to discuss the project and new directions...even brainstorm if they have to. Maybe these little "business" dinners, sometimes turn personal...the conversations that is...they start getting closer. Now, for me...a sense of humor is all so important and attractive and luscious. But maybe for this heroine, it's integrity and honor. Maybe she's been the recipient of too many arrogant boyfriends who are surface pretty but lack real substance. See where I'm going with this? She's going to fall hard for a man who she can talk to, who shares her interest in science and has both honor and integrity. What if she finds out this man she's fallen in love with plans to go back under the knife to have some corrective surgery to fix the botched rebuild he's had for twenty years. - I can just see the scene so clearly in my head. *sigh* I won't give any more of it away because I have the feeling I might use this sometime. But you get what I'm after - heroine falls in love with hero dispite looks, and because of his inner self.

So, read a Jane Austen book, look at the characters and think about why they are still popular after 200 hundred years. As the saying goes, beauty fades.

What are some of your favorite characters, and what is it about them that you remember most?



Sierra Wolfe said...

Great post, Kat! You always teach me so much. Thanks for sharing with us!

Mark Alders said...

Excellent post and lots of wonderful tips in there, too.



Tierney O'Malley said...

Damn Kate, your posts are A-grade material. Thanks a bunch.


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