Tag Archives: characterization

So Much For That

In between editing jobs, I try to reward myself by reading just for fun. And how rewarding it is when I get to rediscover one of my favorite authors!

Several years ago I read Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin, which was riveting, heart-stopping, gut-wrenching… you name it. It took me a long time to stop thinking about this book and then even longer to think I could read another Shriver work, or really, that she could write something else that I would love as much.

so muchBut she has. I won’t entertain (or bore) you with a middle school book report of So Much for That; the story’s summary can be easily accessed at any of your online retailers. I can say that it is rich with sensitive topics and deeply personal issues—though Shriver refuses to wallow in any of them—as well as larger, more global concerns that she skillfully weaves into the background.

Her characters felt real, relatable; their dialogue sounded natural; their lives seemed believable. I could see what was coming but couldn’t stop it, no matter how much I wanted things to turn out differently.

It was a painful read, but one that transfixed me; in the author’s own words, “a black but improbably jubilant novel about illness, death, and money.” Once again, Shriver has encouraged her readers (well, me) to wonder: what would I do?

One thing I know I will do is read another Shriver novel.

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What a character!

One of the most difficult tasks in writing is developing believable characters that readers will identify with … relate to … love or hate … but never ignore. Whether on screen or in print, the trick is to invoke a viewer/reader’s response: “I know a guy like that!”

A key component to creating believability is actually using characteristics from real people, or creating composites by blending personality traits of friends, family, even acquaintances. Nothing says a writer needs to replicate an individual in his or her entirety (unless, of course, the work is a biography or memoir). Little kernels of truth can go a long way.

Cartoon characters, too, are often modeled after — and demonstrate — the quirks and idiosyncrasies (or idiocies) of humans — common folks as well as celebrities. But now the question is, as evidenced by the images my brother sent me, which came first: the “lady” or the “panda”?

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