Friday, February 6, 2009

Revealing Character (Characterization III)

In yesterday's post I introduced 16 ways in which a writer can employ to reveal character and create well-developed and rounded. Today, I would like to discuss methods 1 through 4.

  1. Conflict With Environment: One of the most important tenets in writing is to place a protagonist in conflict with his/her environment. The protagonist's response to this conflict determines his/her primary motivation. Everything the protagonist does to resolve the conflict and everything any other character does to hinder the protagonist, reveals something about their character.

  2. Action: This is possibly the most effective and significant way to reveal character. There is a great deal of truth to the axiom: Actions speak louder than words. Think of your own life, to a time when you believed you would react in a particular way only to find that when you were actually confronted with the situation you acted completely different. As an example, think about one of the most catastrophic things that can happen to anyone, their house catches fire. A person may believe that if this were to happen they would calmly assist everyone out of the house and then use whatever is at hand to fight the blaze. However, once he/she smalls the smoke and/or sees the flames they freeze and are incapable of any form of action. Under these circumstances our fears, impulses and reflections. Returning to the fire analogy, if your character runs into the burning building to save a child, this does not necessarily denote a heroic character; rather it may be a sudden impulse. If on the other hand, he/she freezes in place it does not mean they are cowardly, possibly they had experienced a fire in their childhood and have a strong fear of fires. What about reflection? What does that mean. If your character reflects upon the situation, overcomes fear and then runs into the burning building it reveals bravery.

  3. Self-Discovery and Self-Realization: This method is a corollary of method 2. Character is revealed through action, but the character's ability to judge him/her self is also introduced. This method has been used effectively in war novels and movies. A character may believe he will be brave when faced with combat, only to freeze in place and be unable to act. Conversely, he may be fearful of combat and discover once he is subjected to it that he has courage he was unaware he possessed.

  4. Motivated Action: This technique is a corollary of 2 and 3 above. The delineating factor here is that the character is clearly motivated to act a certain way. In To Kill A Mockingbird, Atticus Finch is clearly motivated by his belief that the law is a sacred thing and therefore is compelled to defend Tom Robinson, whom he believes to be the victim of a miscarriage of justice. This method is utilized in many traditional novels.

It easy to see how a writer cam employ any combination of these methods to reveal character. In my next post I will discuss methods 5 through 8.

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