Archive for May 15th, 2010


Saturday, May 15th, 2010

The short essay below is based upon the material in chapter 5 of my book on fiction writing: Build a Better Story.

Today’s topic is characterization and I’ll concentrate of an aspect that you’ll have trouble finding in how-to books on fiction writing: a character’s philosophical outlook on life. Everyone has a philosophical outlook (but you may not be aware of it) and characters deserve one also because this attribute influences the way the character thinks and defines the character’s reaction to some story stimuli.

This element is one of the first that I give to a new character since it influences other some attributes and dictates still. For instance, a reader will not believe in a cheerful character who is supposed to be a pessimist. Similarly, a morose character will make a poor (i.e. unbelievable) optimist.

In building a group of characters for a story, I ensure that the characters have a variety of philosophies. A lot of conflict and humor can be achieved by giving the protagonist and a sidekick conflicting philosophies such as mysticism and materialism. This last pair pits a character with a strong belief in faith against another who doesn’t believe that faith has anything to do with events or results. This pair of characters will attribute an event to completely different causes. One will see it as an act of god while the other will believe it is only luck or coincidence. These differences of opinion can provide the writer with a wealth of material that is useful for conflict and/or humor.

There is much more about characterization in Build a Better Story including a list of personal philosophies I use for my characters along with an explanation on what the philosophy entails. I also detail another little understood aspect of characterization; Dominant Reader Emotions. This aspect is critical; it’s what you want the reader to remember about the character.

BABS cover