Characters are the essence of a story. I have seen discussion boards in which people spend time arguing about the merits of fictional characters as if they were real people. ( I suppose it might be easier to become attached to a character who is what you imagine and never talks back than it is to relate to a real fallible person.) Biographies and histories, as well as fiction revolve around characters that are fleshed out only through words.
Characterization is a method that you use to transport these people who live in your head to a place where your audience may become acquainted with them.
There is the easy way to do this. Tell the audience directly that antagonist is a tall, muscular, fearless, impatient man… with a degree in four different languages, a preference for blonds and BMWs, and severe allergy to peanuts. And, then there is the hard way – write the narrative in a manner that the reader must observe the character, follow what he does, see how he reacts, hear what others say about him, and even listen to what he thinks in order to build a full picture. The second more difficult method is more satisfying for me, both when reading and writing.
The next challenge is embellishing all the other characters – unless you are writing a new version of Robinson Caruso. It becomes confusing to simply name each character and leave it at that. Each one should have some bit of individuality or physical trait to make them distinguishable from the others. Yet, you cannot create them all with the same detailed development reserved for the protagonist unless you want to drive your readers up a wall.
Some short cuts include using the following:
Stock characters – a stereotype already created by the culture who behaves in an expected manner, such as the dumb blond or the ruthless drug dealer
Archetype – the embodiment of collective set of characteristics passed down from ancient times – as the wise old hermit
Round character – a partially developed character that has an contradictory trait or two to keep them from being flat and boring, such as an actor with stage fright.
Foil – a character who is pretty much the opposite of another, usually the protagonist. For example, a clumsy, shy foil would make your protagonist seem suave and cosmopolitan.
Doppleganger – A character who looks identical to a main character. The doppleganger, who can be an empathetic companion or an evil twin, is as much a plot device as a type of characterization.
Of course, it is true that some readers would rather simply be told what each character is like. They also enjoy the stereotypes who are fairly predictable and do not requiring any deep thought while reading. As a writer you have to decide who you are writing for and if you can live with your decision.
Artwork – Macaron by S.L. Listman