Please welcome Drew Carson, today’s teen contributor, for his first appearance at RANDOM, and be his fan. I am! (Be sure to read his BIO below.) Also, Drew will be a regular teen contributor. We can’t wait to read and learn from his posts.
Just a few days ago, I was looking back on an old WIP when I realized something: my characterization really needed some work. So, taking a word of advice from author James Scott Bell (The Art of War, for Writers), I set out to find the best examples of strong characters in the fictional universe.
My search led me straight to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, which, once I started reading, wouldn’t let me go. But how? How could J.K. Rowling’s characters draw me in to a point where I was powerless to resist?
It took me a while, but I finally came to a solid conclusion (and you’ll have to tell me whether you agree or not). I noticed that Rowling’s method of characterization follows a fairly steady pattern, with a few minor changes here and there. Combined with some of my personal beliefs about people in general, I turned this pattern into something I could look at every day.
Here’s how it goes:
For those who don’t know what the word means, “archetype” refers to the generalized theme of something (in this case, a character). You might also think of this as the stereotype your character most closely resembles.
As an example, think back on the first time you ever met Hermione Granger. Remember? It was on the train, just as Harry and Ron were finishing off a box of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans. She stuck her nose in, watched Ron attempt a fake spell, and proceeded to inform them that she had memorized all of their course material by heart. There.
We now know she’s a brain, if not “the brain,” of the story, and she’s only been around for twenty seconds.
Harry is “the Hero.” Draco is “the Bully.”
This is where your characters begin to distinguish themselves, because chances are, there’s going to be more than one “bully” in your story.
Quirks are really just oddities in the way your character speaks, looks, and behaves. They are things that help your reader create a mental definition of each person in your story. This, in turn, makes your characters more memorable, and that’s good.
While both the archetype and quirks of each character should be apparent early on (some of them, at least), background information is gradual, and best revealed in bite-sized pieces.
I tend to separate background into three categories:
– Home: This includes the location and culture of your character’s upbringing, as well as their economical status.
– Events: Pretty self-explanatory. Everything that has happened to your character falls under this category.
– People: This includes all family ties, friendships, and other relationships that your character has ever had.
These sub-categories are usually connected in some way – and that’s a good thing! If they weren’t, your character wouldn’t be very credible.
Photo compliments of Morguefile.com
4) DARK SIDE
And by “dark side,” I don’t necessarily mean “tantrum-mode.” Have you ever gotten into an argument and said something that was so personal the other person fell silent with shock? What did they do afterwards? Ignore you? Seek revenge? Cry?
Your character’s dark side is the side you see when that line is crossed, and their relationship with the offending party is critically damaged.
Your character’s philosophy is nothing less than their deepest beliefs, both short-term and long-term.
Here’s an example that’s not from Harry Potter:
Remember in The Hunger Games when Katniss finds Peeta awake and looking out on the Capitol? They get talking, and Peeta says he wants to find a way to prove that he’s not a piece in their games – that he’s his own person. That’s a strong belief of his. It’s a philosophy.
Notice that by the time he says it, though, we already know something about his archetype, quirks, and background. Philosophy is usually something that is revealed as two people get to know each other deeply. This, of course, is not always the case – it just depends on the character and situation. Someone like Dumbledore may explain their philosophies more readily than, say, Draco.
In a way, the soul of your character is his/her simplest component. It is what you see when everything is at stake, and there is a quick decision to be made. Sometimes, it will match up with the reader’s first impression of the character, while in other circumstances it may be opposite. This would be the case if you have a character who pretends to be brave, but deep down is quite frightened of most things dangerous.
Not only does soul deal with bravery, but morality, as well. If your character was being bribed a ridiculous sum of money (or something else they desire) in return for a wicked deed, would they take the offer? Or would they walk away.
To put it simply, the pattern I saw in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone had to do with building up from a strong stereotype. This made it easy for me to recognize and relate with J.K. Rowling’s characters.
Remember: strong archetype, unique intricacies. That’s it!
I’m Drew, a normal (and slightly nerdy) fifteen-year-old, who’s first and foremost goal at this point is to write a game-changer – the kind of book people remember.
I’m the kind of person who can’t stand low expectations. It makes me cringe every time I hear someone at school say, “I don’t care.” I’ve always cared about everything – school, life, religion, etc – and I will continue to care as long as I live.
For a while, I was into video-games. Then it was drawing. Then fiction writing. Then filming. Then song writing. Then piano-playing. Then swimming. Then rock-climbing.
Fiction writing is the only one of my ‘phases’ that I’ve returned to, which, I assume, is a good omen. I’ve certainly jumped back in with both feet. Just in these last few months, I’ve re-read the Harry Potter series with a fine-tooth comb, picking out bits and pieces of technique that could be useful in my own stories. I’ve also read several other books doing the same thing.
I don’t have a set posting schedule, as homework is wildly unpredictable, but I would love to drop by whenever I have time. Most of my notes will be geared towards younger writers, like myself, simply because that’s the area I have experience in. This will probably change as I get deeper into the writing process.
You can tell me all about the gamble of professional writing, and how a very select few will ever make it big, let alone write a game-changer like Harry Potter or the Lord of the Rings, but don’t expect me to take it to heart. J.K. Rowling was once a little girl in diapers. Somewhere along the line, she learned to write so that people would listen. I can, too.
My current WIPs include: Cyberheart, The Shadow-Moment, and Ghost. They are primarily sci-fi/thriller, but Cyberheart has several likenesses to a fantasy novel.
I love to hear from people! If you’ve got questions or suggestions – anything, really – shoot me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Make sure to comment below and tell me what you think of my character pyramid. Happy writing!