Monday, 28 November 2011

Article | How to Kill Characterisation (in Five Easy Steps)

In my time as a reader, I have seen characterisation abused on occasion. Well, I have decided: no more 'unrealistic', or 'slightly unbelievable' characters! Here is my guide on going the whole way: the how-not-to list of characterisation. And as always, it is completely subjective.

1) Character-As-Ability
We've seen this with elemental mages. A lot. So, your fire mage is tempestuous, your wind-user flighty, and the earth magician (who's drawn the superpower short straw) 'solid'. Well done! Your characters have just become defined by their abilities. I haven't seen such blatant examples often, but it's not just magic this crops up in. Thieves, warriors, and scholars all seem to share the same stereotyped traits when done badly.

2) Character-As-Sob Story
I'm not saying that characters shouldn't have struggles in their pasts - that would be tedious. But what I am saying is that a abused, angsty past does not a character make. And that they should get over it. Childhood will affect your character later on, but characters who are still angsting about the death of their parents (fantasy parental fatality rate: 100%!) twenty years on are overdoing it a lot. There were some instances of this in The Last Stormlord and its sequels - not as awful as I described, but where characters are simply defined by their pasts.

3) 'Excuse Plot' Development Scenes
Yes, your character should develop. This development should work with the plot, not against it! If the scenes intended to unite your hero with their romantic interest need excuses, they shouldn't be let anywhere near the story. I know this seems harsh, but really, there should be enough momentum for development in your story without adding in a massage scene. I'm looking at you, Empire in Black and Gold...

4) Insane Motivations
This includes  'oh, but he actually is insane'. Unless the character has been built up so this is believable, then making insanity the justification doesn't really count. Although acts of astounding stupidity do occur in real life (the Darwin Awards, anyone?), fiction has a tougher job!

5) Darlings
The characters who can do no wrong, will come out of pitched battle smelling of roses, and even coming off as a sociopath to the readers (Richard 'he's a special person' Rahl, I look at thee), will be treated as a paragon by the author. This is horrible. For one thing, it gets rid of any ambiguity - the hero is right with a capital 'R', and everyone else is evil. For another, it destroys tension: we want  to fool ourselves into thinking (perhaps rightly) that the hero isn't going to win. If there's a character the author would never, ever allow to die... Well, that tension's gone. This is why i love George R. R. Martin so much: anyone can die.

As always, these are my pet dislikes - and as always, veeeery subjective. So let's add more into the mix: comment below and tell me yours!