Tactical Tuesday: Advice for Self-Editing

The word characterization is tossed around quite a bit in a writer’s world, but what does it really mean?

Characterization is what makes a character who he is. An author draws upon several aspects to develop a character:

       Family background: A kid raised in the slums of New York is definitely going to behave differently than a kid who grew up on a farm in Oklahoma.
       Education: Someone with a fifth grade education isn’t going to see the world through the same eyes as someone schooled at Harvard. I’m not saying that the person with the fifth-grade education isn’t smarter than the Harvard grad because often times, common sense shows a higher intelligence than “book learning.”
       Moral values: We're not talking exclusively Christian values, although the ones who know Christ should have a pretty high moral standard. Overall, though, moral values can be good or bad. They are derived through childhood or through rebellion. They are what makes a person appear good or evil. They are also what provides depth to character--even when a character doesn't practice what he knows is right
.       Back story: Yes, back story is always important to characterization. However, not all back story is relevant to the story at hand except that it builds character. Only what is relevant to the story should be brought in, the rest should be a tool for development of character.
       Conflict: How a person deals with conflict shows the reader that character’s strengths and weaknesses.
       Repetitive actions, speech attributes, and mannerisms are a great way to develops a character.

Therefore, it only goes to prove that three dimensional characters are created when:

       They are given a unique pattern of behavior brought on by their background, education, and values.
       They are placed in situations that are not comfortable for them and then react in ways they normally would not behave.

A few modern-day characters exhibit a depth of characterization. Let’s dissect one of the most popular television characters for today’s audiences:  Dr. Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory.
  • Family background: Sheldon’s father was an alcoholic; his mother is portrayed loosely as a Christian. Sheldon has a twin sister, who does not have his high intellect, but both his mother and his sister exhibit far more common sense than does Sheldon.
  • Education: Sheldon is a highly educated genius, but he lacks social skills.
  • Moral Values: Like it or not, Sheldon does exhibit the moral values instilled upon him by both his mother and his beloved “Memaw,” yet his scientific exploration has him doubting the God his mother worships.
  • Back story: Sheldon was a childhood genius who was often picked upon. His genius propelled him through school and is most likely the reason for his social ineptness.
  • Conflict: Sheldon is a very me-centered individual. He’s also OCD, and he behaves in very funny ways when his comfort zone is invaded. He also, on occasion, shows compassion and a child-like persona, which adds depth.
  • Repetitive actions: Sheldon has created words such as “Bazinga,” and he has made the saying, “I’m not crazy. My mother had me tested,” very popular. His OCD has him always knocking on Penny's door three times while calling out her name. Sheldon also insists that no one sit in his spot, and when someone brings him food, he has a lists of questions to ask about it. These all draw the audience to his unique character.
Characterization is important to a novel. It is the fleshing out of our novel’s cast members. When self-editing, an author should review his manuscript with an eye toward characters who live in an ordinary world yet who make that world extraordinary by the things they see, the conflict they face, and the way they see the world around them.

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