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CHARACTERIZATION

October 7, 2020

            I’ve been reading a lot of icky bug (horror) lately. Unfortunately for me, a lot of it tends to be literary writing, which I cannot stand.

            What do I mean by literary writing?

            Endless characterization and description. In a way, I’m including description in this piece on characterization.

BEGINNINGS – TASTE

            While I’m a huge fan of icky bug, I’m no fan of literary writing. I once read a very thick novel by a well-known but shall remain nameless icky bug author and I was so mesmerized by the lack of action, I could barely get through that draggy tome.

            This was the great so and so?

            You’ve got to be kidding!

            Then after suffering through all that, several reviewers had the audacity to complain that they never got to know the main characters!

            You’ve got to be kidding!

            There was almost no action at all because this top-of-the-line author rambled on-and-on-and-on about the characters, endlessly going through trivial feelings and hopes and dreams and bla bla bla. I wanted to give up reading after suffering through that.

            So, in a nutshell, and I don’t apologize for the cliché, I hated the book.

GETTING TO KNOW THE CHARACTERS

            For those of you that have been reading my blog a long time, you have read my infamous quote from old cowboy actor Jack Elam. He once said that he was sick of all these movies that went into the heads of the bad guys and their feelings. “Maybe they just wanted the money.”

            That’s kind of how I feel about things. I don’t like to waste a lot of time characterizing. I don’t like to spend a lot of real estate building up an entire world for a character while letting the action, the entire plot, come to a screeching halt. To me, I want the story to progress.

            Why take five chapters to say something you can say in a paragraph?

            Come on now!

            I’d much rather leak out bits and pieces for the reader to put together as the action progresses rather than bring everything to a screeching halt while the reader has to slog through another flashback, or a sideline while I explain why the character does or doesn’t like something.

            Geez, give me a break.

EXAMPLES

            I’ve just read two examples of icky bug recently while I was on vacation. Both should’ve been quick reads. However, they were excruciating.

            Why?

            Characterization.

            The plots were fairly simple.

            The characters were not.

            Each chapter would start with something happening. However, right as the action started, the author brought it to a screeching halt as the characterization started. Then for ten or more pages, he or she would then go off into la la land, describing the characters history, feelings, hopes, dreams or whatever, then at the end of the chapter, finally get back into the action.

            Then in the next chapter, start doing the next thing.

            Sometimes, the author wouldn’t even do that, but go right into the characterization before starting the action.

            I was practically yelling “come on!” so often, my wife was wondering what was going on.

            The reviews were mixed on both of these books. Some loved it, while others slammed the authors for never getting to the point.

            I won’t specifically mention them because I don’t want to slam other writers and authors specifically. Let’s just say that they were not the huge writer mentioned in that other section above and leave it at that.

BACK TO TASTE

            There is a big literary crowd out there.

            There are some that are midway, so they could enjoy both.

            However, there is a huge crowd of readers that like to get to the point.

            For me, I get to know the characters just fine with a few sentences and a random paragraph mixed in with the action. I don’t need page upon page, chapter upon chapter to get information I don’t want while the plot stews on the back burner.

            I’m not alone.

SUMMARY

            I’m a strong advocate for tight and right. Characterization does not have to be half the book. It can be done in small doses, so the author doesn’t lose sight of why they’re writing the book in the first place. Story and plot. If the story is about the character, fine. Don’t make it out to be a thriller or a mystery or something with action. Make it a character study and make it plain to the reader. If it’s a thriller, MAKE it a thriller that moves (or whatever category it is).

            Characterization should be an enhancement to the story, not a hindrance.

            Happy writing!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Debra Caples permalink
    October 14, 2020 11:13 am

    I’m with you here, Fred. A fast paced-story where we get to know the character by what he or she DOES and says is the best way to get to know one. Otherwise, it’s going to fall onto my chest when I get bored to sleep.

    • October 17, 2020 12:31 pm

      I hear you! That usually comes with literary writing, which is all about the characters. In fact, I’m reading an icky bug right now that is heavy characterization and sort of light on action. It’s dragging. I’ve almost put it down several times. I can’t wait to get it overwith.

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