Sunday, November 12, 2006

Build Characters, Not Caricatures

There was an interesting post on Miss Snark's website Friday.

Miss Snark began the post by professing to love Satan, and she gave half a dozen reasons why. She then said, "You might think about that when you're creating villains . . . This post is inspired by three query letters describing the villian (sic) as 'evil'. Evil in and of itself is boring. Fallen and flawed angels....that's where it gets interesting."

This prompts me to talk about characterizations.

If there's one thing that makes me want to pull my hair out when I'm doing a critique, it's characters who do things for no discernible reason. My favorite pet peeve are people who suddenly fall in love--out of the blue
--with no explanation. A close second are villains who snark around with narrowed eyes and snotty comments, behaving nasty for no reason at all--except that they're the villain.

A rule of thumb: The point-of-view determines who is the protagonist and who is the antagonist. If you are telling the story of Jack (he of the Beanstalk), then his antagonist (the Giant) is the villain. Doesn't necessarily mean the antagonist is evil or mean. Just means that the antagonist is standing between the protagonist (hero) and his goals. From the Giant's POV, Jack was an intruder and a thief.

To use another children's story, Dorothy is the protagonist of The Wizard of Oz. However, the Wicked Witch is the protagonist of Wicked. When you're looking at events from Dorothy's POV, she was entitled to try to kill the Witch in order to secure the broom and return home to Kansas. When you're looking at events from the Witch's POV, Dorothy was a thief who planned to break into the Witch's castle to steal the Witch's property. Each woman felt completely justified in her actions. The only difference is whose story you happen to be telling.

Take the time to figure out what motivates your villain. Why does he feel justified in his villainy? Think about giving him some positive traits. Does he like children? Dogs? Beauty? Art?

Make your characters fully dimensional--interesting characters instead of caricatures.

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