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Welcome to The Inkwell, the blog site of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) of Colorado.

Each week on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, you can find a wide variety of topics and insight
from inspiration to instruction to humor and more!

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A Heinz-57 Look at Characters and Characterization

As I’m sure you know by now, this month’s blog focus has been on characters and characterization. Rather than give my two-cents worth on the subject, I thought it would be fun to quote other seasoned authors and get their perspective. Enjoy!


“Keep them people, people, people, and don’t let them get to be symbols. Remember the [human] race is older than the economic system.” Ernest Hemingway

“People are not the principal subject of fiction; they are its only subject.” William Sloane

“Every character who enters fiction needs vivid rendering.” John Gardner

“The moment when a character does or says something you hadn’t thought about. At that moment he’s alive and you leave him to it.” Graham Greene

“Of course, that wonderful thing, a character running away with you—which happens to everyone—that’s happened to me, I’m afraid.” E.M. Forster

“I followed Caddy around and wrote down what she did.” William Faulkner [when asked how he wrote The Sound and the Fury]

“Flawed characters are the unforgettable ones.” Susan Shaughnessy

“If they aren’t in interesting situations, characters cannot be major characters, not even if everyone else is talking about them.” P.G. Wodehouse

“What is character but the determination of incident? What is incident but the illustration of character?” Henry James

“A writer begins by breathing life into his characters. But if you are very lucky, they breathe life into you.” Caryl Phillips

“I’ve never taken ideas but always characters for my starting point.” Ivan Turgenev

“If one is not going to make cardboard characters it is important to say that even people who do terrible things are not unrelievedly terrible people, or at least that they are not always terrible: there can be moments when they behave well.” Salman Rushdie

“Character is the kind of thing which discloses the nature of a choice.” Aristotle

“Make the people live. Make them live. But my people must be more than people. They must be an over-essence of people.” John Steinbeck

“I have such a man, such a woman, in such surroundings. What can happen to them to oblige them to go to their limit? That’s the question. It will be sometimes a very simple incident, anything which will change their lives.” Georges Simenon

“It would be a great joke on the people in my book if I just left them high and dry, waiting for me. If they bully me and do what they choose I have them over a barrel. They can’t move until I pick up a pencil. They are frozen, turned to ice standing one foot up and with the same smile they had yesterday when I stopped.” John Steinbeck

“I can ease my heart inside another character’s until I feel what he or she feels and think the way he or she thinks.” Terry McMillan

Jane Eyre is one of the most outstanding of . . . the character novel, and that is not simply a novel in which character plays a great part—because character does that in all novels—but one in which the story is architected round a single person, and one in which, usually, such persons show power to influence their own destiny so that the story springs from them. Things happen because of what they are and what they do. In themselves they precipitate situations.” Elizabeth Bowen

“The characters’ responses to the world around them gives the reader insight into their personalities, just as it does to anyone you see on the street. Let the sun, wind, rain, and objects in their immediate surroundings help reveal your character’s thoughts and feelings.” Othello Bach

“It might seem that the writer needs a gift of mimicry, like an impersonator, to achieve this variety of voices. But it isn’t that. It’s more like what a serious actor does, sinking self in character-self. It’s a willingness to be the characters, letting what they think and say rise from inside them. It’s a willingness to share control with one’s creation.” Ursula K. Le Guin

“A story involves, in a dramatic way, the mystery of personality. I lent some stories to a country lady who lives down the road from me, and when she returned them, she said, ‘Well, them stories just gone and shown how some folks would do,’ and I thought to myself that that was right; when you write stories, you have to be content to start exactly there—showing how some specific folks will do, will do in spite of everything.” Flannery O’Connor

“People in a novel, not skillfully constructed characters, must be projected from the writer’s assimilated experience, from his knowledge, from his head, from his heart and from all there is of him. If he ever has luck as well as seriousness and gets them out entire they will have more than one dimension and they will last a long time.” Ernest Hemingway

“My characters never show the depth of my feelings and they would be wrong if they did. You have to leave space for the reader’s feelings to meet yours.” John Fowles

“To have sympathy for any character, you have to put a good deal of yourself in him.” Flannery O’Connor

“The writer’s characters must stand before us with a wonderful clarity, such continuous clarity that nothing they do strikes us as improbable behavior for just that character, even when the character’s action is, as sometimes happens, something that comes as a surprise to the writer himself. We must understand, and the writer before us must understand, more than we know about the character; otherwise neither the writer nor the reader after him could feel confident of the character’s behavior when the character acts freely.” John Gardner

“I can only tell you that if you see a character starting to breathe, you do not shut him up, you do not sit on him, and you do not ship him out. You stay with him.” Martin Cruz Smith

“Characterization is the presentation of the nature of the people in a story. Characterization is really the presentation of motives. We understand a person if we understand what makes him act the way he does.” Ayn Rand

“Also, when you begin writing, write only as much as you are sure of. Do not force your characters into artificial behavior. . . . If you do not know what a character would do or say, you simply have to give it some more thought.” Ayn Rand

“Work them until they breathe, or as Faulkner said, until ‘they suddenly stand up and cast a shadow.’” Ulf Wolf

“I have a warm feeling for all of my characters, even the bad guys, and when I finish a book I often find myself thinking about them, wondering what they’re doing, maybe sitting around like mannequins waiting for me.” Elmore Leonard

“A novel that is at all complex often requires flat people as well as round, and the outcome of their collisions parallels life . . . accurately.” E.M. Forster

“If you know everything about your characters, then you will always succeed in visualizing them for the reader in one way or another, even if you never resort to a descriptive sentence.” William Sloane

“For me, what happens to characters as a story progresses depends solely on what I discover about them as I go along—how they grow, in other words.” Stephen King

“Novelists may wish to indulge the worst kind of totalitarian whims directed against the freedom of their characters. But often as not, they scheme in vain, for characters always manage to evade one’s all-seeing eye long enough to think thoughts and utter dialogue one could never have come up with if plot were all there were.” Thomas Pynchon


clay barham said...

We now have two governing avenues to travel. One is the diminishing traditional “admire and applaud” system, the Ayn Rand side, and the other, from the Old World, is the growing “envy and punish” system. President Obama favors “envy and punish” and pursues legal means of justifying them both, beyond the limits of our Constitution, which is based upon defending the “admire and applaud” concept. The recent vote in Oregon to tax the small business person out of existence reflects the Obama side of governance, promoting an Old World mercantilist model of government partnering with large business to act as one, leaving the individual pebble dropper out of the loop.

Paula said...

Thanks Jill! That was fun.

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