Foregt the guy with the lampshade

December 22, 2005 | It's All About Writing

Characterization isn’t about the ass at your last holiday party everyone laughed at then dissected on the drive home. It’s the life of your hero, heroine, and all secondary characters in your novel beyond their height, weight, and eye color.

Let’s do a cast call.

Starring Roles;

Johnny the Hero
Liz the Heroine

Supporting Cast;

Fred – Johnny’s best friend
Pam – Liz’s best friend
Marge – Johnny’s mother


Taxi Driver

Of the above group, the only roles needing a characterization are the stars and supporting cast. The Walk-Ons are too minor to worry about.

Beth Anderson spent many a long night explaining why writing a characterization is important. Since we don’t have forever here, I’ll crunch it down.

The writer must know the history of their characters. Their past events are what make them be the people they are today. It is what has driven them to be honest, strong, or steal. You won’t know why your hero runs into the burning building to save the heroine if you don’t understand his history.

So how do you so this? Very easy but time consuming. Don’t fudge on this. It’s too important to writing a novel that will impress an editor.

The stars need an extensive characterization. Following is the process;

1 – Park yourself at your computer. Each characterization will take several hours so relax and enjoy.

2 – Choose one of the lead characters.

3 – Imagine you are that person. We’ll use Johnny for the example.

4 – Just type. Bang out his life starting from boyhood. Write in his voice. It’s amazing how your phrases will alter as he ages. Bring him up to the starting point of your novel. Include every detail no matter how unimportant it may seem. Let your mind run on and you will be Johnny, living the high points of his youth and what drove him to the man where your story begins. You’re in Johnny’s point of view. Did he pee his pants in third grade? What really happened? What did he see, smell, and feel inside?

Don’t worry about punctuation, grammar, or spelling. Just type. No one else will ever read your work.

Do this with your heroine as well.

You have finally finished your stars. It’s time to begin on your supporting cast. They’ll take much less time as they aren’t nearly as important. You don’t have to start in their childhood. Type up a brief bio, something similar to an obituary of a famous person.

I took Beth’s method one step further to help me drizzle the backstory into my novel.

Below are the four easy steps;

1 – Print out each characters history.

2 – List all the highpoints on a separate sheet of paper. The order doesn’t matter.

3 – As you write your novel drop in a line or two of backstory at the appropriate time to enrich the action of your character. Use only the most important lines of their backstory. You know the rest and the reader doesn’t care.

4 – Cross off the line as it’s used and write next to it which page you’ve inserted it.

This method will help you build stronger characters with real motivation your reader and editor will love.


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7 Responses to “Foregt the guy with the lampshade”

  1. Sherrill Quinn Says:

    This is great stuff, Sloane. It’s so easy to have the characters in your head and just sit down and start writing. There’s no way you can convey believable motivation if you don’t understand why your characters do the things they do.

    Of course, one can always try… 🙂

  2. Jenna Howard Says:

    Again…I got nothin’.

    Let’s get back to the grammar. I could bug you with grammar.

    Good motivation can save a bad plot but bad motivation can’t save a good plot. ‘nuf said.

  3. For The Trees Says:

    At this rate you might make a decent writer out of me yet. I’m wrestling with my story because I DON’T have backstory, characterization, plot, precis, summary, theme, GMC (or whatever that is), or anything other than an idea of what the story’s gonna be about. This is the loosest cannon I’ve ever had on deck.

    So I’ve got plenty of work to do to make it good. So? I’ve got plenty of time. Now to just do it.

    Thanks, Sloane!

  4. Yasmine Says:

    Jenna how do you feel about commas and TSTL minor characters? You are cracking me up. You’ve got such talent. Get some chocolate woman!!

    Great analysis Sloane. Sometimes my minor characters try to take over the story like they’re really important and I have to tell them to write their own story. Oh, that would be me doing the writing.

  5. Sloane Taylor Says:

    Glad you all appreciate my meager efforts.

    It’s important we share what we’ve learned as so many of us are struggling in this industry and that’s what I’m trying to do in this blog.

    Writing is a logical process filled with emotion. Almost seems contradictory.

    There may not be a blog today because my computer is screwed which is why I wasn’t on any of your blogs or emails yesterday. I’m at a friend’s trying to get at least this blog answered.

    Now I need your help. What is GMC and TSTL? Haven’t a clue here!

    Never fear, Jenna. after the first of the year we’re back to grammar and yes, Sherrill and Yasmine, the COMMA. HA!!

    I’ll also do a blog on what to do with all the extra backstory, Yasmine, like you requested the other day.

    Forrest, we sweet Vixens will have you up and able, no pun intended, before you know it.

    Hope you all have a Merry Christmas!

  6. Yasmine Says:

    GMC = Goals Motivation and Conflict. An erotica writer, Morgan Hawke, blogged March 30, 2005 about GMC simplified. It was a very good blog. I thought I told you about it? Ok, brain shutting down, February, March and pretty much everthing up until September is a damn blur.
    TSTL = To Stupid To Live sometimes referring to the heroine. I had to ask about the TSTL one last week. Keeps me laughing.
    What’s up with your computer again? Time to invest in a cheap laptop and use it ONLY FOR WRITING!!

  7. Sloane Says:

    You are such a pushy little bitch! Santa better not bring a laptop, well – unless it includes a dance!!

    Thanks for the definitions. I feel incredibly stupid.

    Okay you Einsteins! No one caught forget is misspelled.