Saturday, February 7, 2009

Revealing Characters (Characterization IV)

The last 3 posts have been discussion of effective methods of revealing characters. So, lets look at methods 5 through 8:

5. Character Tags: A tag is defined in dictionary.com as " a descriptive word or phrase applied to a person, group, organization, etc., as a label or means of identification; epithet". In writing a tag isolates a character's dominant quality and repeats it. These tags can be one of 4 different types: (a.) Physical: such as repetitive mention of the character's height. (b.) Appearance: This tag is should not be associated with the Physical Tag. It usually related to some aspect of his appearance. A common usage is describing a character's attire as a means of revelation. (c.) Mannerism: uses a mannerism with a motivation behind it to help reveal character. Perhaps a character may be aware of his/her separateness from the other members of an organization or social gathering and covers it by frequent grinning. (d.) Habit: whereas a mannerism is a self-conscious quality, a habit can be acquired thoughtlessly. Behaviors such as cracking one's knuckles or having to smoke after a meal can reveal much about a character. Finally there is the (e.) Favorite Expression: this tag is often used with minor characters. Perhaps you have a minor character who habitually says, "You know what I mean?" whenever he/she is having a discussion. This expression obviously reveals a character's fear of not being clear or of being misunderstood.


6. Emphasizing a minor character by a single dominant trait: A novel in which every character is well-rounded would be so long that many readers may be scared off by its bulk. So the writer must be content with revealing a single dominant trait for minor characters. This is usually adequate because the purpose of a minor character is to help the writer bring out some information the he/she wants the protagonist and the reader to know. Their role is limited and therefore does not require the depth of a major character.


7. Contrasting characters: This allows the writer to strengthen those traits he/she wants to emphasize. The writer need not contrast opposites but can point varying degrees of the same trait. Such as two gamblers can be contrasted by revealing that one is cautious and conservative while another is reckless and operates by the seat of his pants. This method is utilized in all contemporary novels.


8. Names: names tell the reader a lot about character. Consider the following names by which Natty Bumpo is known in James Fenimore Cooper's Leather Stocking novels: Hawkeye (The Last of The Mohicans), Deerslayer (The Deerslayer), Pathfinder (The Pathfinder), and Leatherstocking (The Pioneers and The Prairie). Each of the names reveal different aspects of Natty Bumpo; we know he's an expert marksman (Hawkeye), tracker (Pathfinder) and hunter (Deerslayer). The name Leatherstocking reveals that he is a man of the outdoors and forest, a rustic person. Also if one looks at the chronology of the novels the names are a resume of a sort. Chronologically, the first book in the series is The Deerslayer in which as a young man, Natty is 23 or 24 and gains a reputation as a hunter. In The Last of The Mohicans, Natty is 36 or 37 years old and uses the skills he has gained to rescue a woman from hostile Indians. Not to belabor the point, Cooper effectively tells much about the role his protagonist will play in each novel through the various names bestowed on Natty Bumpo, usually by other characters.


In my next post, I'll discuss methods 9 through 12.


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