I am once again thrilled to be hosting Josi S. Kilpack. Today she has blessed us with a fascinating guest post about characterization. Thank you, Josi! And now, I will step aside and turn the spotlight on out guest...
I believe that the most important element of any story is the characters it is about. Whether the character is a rock or a pig or a prince of nations, they have to be interesting and relatable. The Harry Potter series is not about magic, it’s about a boy. The Da Vinci Code is not about cryptography, it’s about a professor and a cryptographer trying to solve a murder. Even novels that are plot driven (suspense, horror, etc.) are only there because something is happening to someone, therefore every other element of a story is based upon the characters—they are, therefore, the foundation of every story and because of that they deserve a great deal of attention during the creation process.
For inspiration, I can go to the mall, a PTA meeting, church, or just a family reunion and blend together physical traits until it fits what I want. TV is probably the worst place for inspiration in this way because so many celebrities look similar in body size, shape, etc. Real life is the place to go to find those physical traits that give a visual. Amid the physical description is often their ethnicity, level of activity, and personal hygiene—each of which says a lot about them.
Then I get to move inside and work on the interior character. One of the first questions I ask is how does the character feel about their physical selves. Do they love being tall, do they hate having blue eyes, do they look like their parents, do they look nothing like their parents? How do people perceive them physically, and how does that perception affect them? Are they kind, greedy, secretive, boisterous; how do they react to people? Are they introverted or extroverted—hiding in a corner or the life of the party? The interior character is as limitless as the external character and, again, real life is a great pool of information. I look at how different people react in a crisis, how they engage in conversation and then wonder why they act differently than someone else. While the exterior is all about how they look, the interior is all about who they are. Once I’ve developed the exterior and the interior, I get to paste together their histories. The exterior and interior get to come together here as I decide where they are from, what kind of family they were born into, how they have made it to this point in their lives. Did he go to college? Did she break off an engagement? I like knowing what their zodiac sign is, what the world was like when they were a child and what their parents did for a living that then influenced their lives.
One of the most important parts of a story is the growth of the character, which means they have to have some part of them in need of improvement. It makes them relatable and real, which is the entire goal of fiction; to make the unreal feel like reality. And yet, despite all the work and imagination, it’s inevitable—at least for me—that many things will change through the course of the story. My character might get taller or fatter or ruder or less educated as needed, usually to increase a conflict they are facing the story, but since I am in charge, I get to make and break the rules all I want. In the words of Robert Cormier “The beautiful part of writing is that you don’t have to get it right the first time, unlike, say, brain surgery.”
About the Author:
Josi has combined her love of MOST things edible and her love of writing into the Sadie Hoffmiller Culinary Mystery series. Blackberry Crumble is the fifth book in what will be an eight book series. When Josi isn’t cooking or writing she’s trying to say ahead of her four children, hiding somewhere with a book in hand, or enjoying her backyard chickens. Josi and her family live in Willard, UT.
For more information about Josi, you can visit her website at www.josiskilpack.com or her blog at www.josikilpack.blogspot.com