Getting A Character ‘In’.
In his book ‘How Fiction Works’ James Wood says:
There is nothing harder than the creation of a fictional character. I can tell it from the number of apprentice novels I read that begin with descriptions of photographs…….
He means that when some writers describe a character they do it as if they were looking at a photograph of the person, a static image, rather than a living,breathing person. It can be very boring and off putting.
Eg: ‘He waited patiently in the hallway, dressed in jeans a hooded sweatshirt and laced boots. Even looking down from atop the staircase, I could see that he was very tall with dark hair and soft, brown eyes.
What does this actually tell us about the character, how does it help us to get to know him, to have any idea about how he will act or what his opinions are about anything?
It is much better to tell us something which sums up their character, in a witty shorthand and get on with the story.
Wood says that the inexperienced writer sticks to this style of static imagery because it is easier than a mobile picture and it reminds him of someone ‘clinging to a handrail and afraid to push off’. It is getting people out of the description and into the action of a scene that is difficult.
How to push out? How to animate the static portrait?
Wood mentions another author, Ford Maddox Ford who writes about getting a character up and running – what he calls ´getting a character in.’
He gives an example from a story called ‘La Reine Hortense’ by Guy de Maupassant.
‘He was a gentleman with red whiskers who always went first through a doorway.’
Ford comments, ´That gentleman has been so sufficiently got in that you need no more of him to understand how he will act. He has been ´got in´and can get to work at once’
We already know that he is flamboyant (he flaunts his red hair), he is confident, a no nonsense person who thinks he is as good, if not better than anyone else and we suspect that he is pompous and possibly a male chauvinist.
(Category: Advice and Information.) Blog 12
See also: Pitching Characters
Tags: Character,Description,Stereotyping,Creative Writing