Monday, November 16, 2009

Characterization by Randy Ingermanson, Part 3

Please welcome author Randy Ingermanson as he concludes his series on characterization this Manuscript Monday.

Part Three of Creating: Your Characters Aren't You
by Randy Ingermanson

It's perfectly OK to inject a bit of yourself in your characters. In fact, I recommend it for every character, even your villains. Give each of your characters some little snippet of yourself, whether it's your tight-trigger temper or your obsession with stamps from Zimbabwe or your amazing skill at juggling buffalo chips.

You have plenty of interesting quirks and character traits to go around for every character you ever write. Your characters are like your children, and each of them should get some bit of your DNA.

My rule of thumb is that none of my characters should "inherit" more than about a third of their traits from me. I have no idea how much inheritance is too much, but I prefer to be cautious, so I try not to go over a third.

I've written several major characters who were physicists. Another was a software engineer, another an archaeologist, another a novelist. All of them shared a major interest with me. But I never thought of any of them as "me plus a little extra," because I've always started with somebody who was fundamentally different from me and then added chunks of myself. I think of my characters as "somebody I'd like to hang out with, because we have a major shared interest."

Now here are some questions you might want to consider for the novel you're working on right now:

* How much does your lead character resemble you? Will your readers wonder if that character is secretly you? Is it possible that this character is more nearly your clone than your child? Does your character have some trait that makes it clear that he or she can't possibly be you?

* How much of your DNA does your villain inherit? Is there nothing in your villain that you can relate to? Is it possible that you might be better able to empathize with your villain by giving him or her some valued trait of yours?

Fiction is a pack of lies that masquerades as truth. Don't risk spoiling your carefully crafted lies with too much truth -- or with too little.

Randy Ingermanson earned a Ph.D. in physics at U.C. Berkeley, which is a wretchedly lame excuse for his friends to have dubbed him a “Mad Genius,” but life isn’t always fair. He is the award-winning author of six novels and one non-fiction book. Randy publishes the world’s largest electronic magazine on the craft of writing fiction, the FREE monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine. His ultimate goal is to become Supreme Dictator for Life and First Tiger and to achieve Total World Domination.

*Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, "the Snowflake Guy," publishes the Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 17,000 readers, every month. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit

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