Monday, January 16, 2017

Characterization: It’s hard to do

A popular post from July 2009

By Heather Moore

The other night I saw “The Proposal” with a friend of mine. Whether or not you like “chick flicks” there were some great characters in there. Yes, a little predictable, but sometimes when watching a movie and analyzing characters, the “aha” light goes on. It’s a little easier to define why one character works and is endearing or relatable, while another might not be, when you see a 2 hour movie.

But what I really want to discuss is a movie I saw a couple of weeks ago, called “New in Town.” Renee Zellweger’s character is a smart, classy, climbing-the-corporate-ladder type. (Incidentally this was the same character-type as Sandra Bullock in The Proposal—but Sandra played it oh-so-much better).

The plot for “New in Town” and Renee’s character were cliché-ish and quite predictable. Renee’s job was to go into a small-town manufacturing plant, that the corporation she worked for had purchased, and to make it profitable. But who shined in the movie was the secretary, played by Siobhan Hogan. She was quirky and her famous, but top-secret, Tapioca recipe became an integral part of the plot. Siobhan’s character “stole the show” and her naivety and small-town good-heartedness felt real, easy to relate to, and easy to picture her as your neighbor.

Here are the things that made up her character:
-Loves scrapbooking, finds value in it and spends time with her neighbors doing it.
-Is the type of person to invite others over for dinner, even if it’s just meatloaf. Which leads to that she’s the type of person who doesn’t put on airs. Meatloaf is good enough for her, so it’s good enough for anyone else.
-Generous and willing to share her Famous Tapioca. Yet, she will not give out the recipe no matter how she is bribed.
-She is trustworthy and trusts back. Also a peacemaker.
-She is a romantic and wants everyone to be happy.
-She lives in a very cold climate but makes the best of it.
-She states her opinion but doesn’t force it on anyone.
-She’s a bit naïve and goes through several upsets because of it.
-She is funny, but unassuming.
-Even when she is emotionally distraught, she makes Tapioca and takes it over to her “enemy”.

I hope this gives you a more rounded view of characterization. It’s not just about description, but about the core of the person. When faced with two choices, which choices would your character make?

For a quick study (and a quick read), I’d recommend Everything is Fine by Ann Dee Ellis. She is a YA author, and her characterization of Mazzy was impressive in that book.


Jenna Consolo said...

Very good, Heather. I totally agree with you. I just rented New in Town this week and while Renee's character was just so-so, (or at least her portrayal of it), the secretary was great. Love the breakdown.

Victoria Mixon said...

Hi! I found Writing on the Wall through the recommendation of Annette, and the first thing I read was this post on the importance of character. That's great!

Yes, character is the fuel that ignites a good story and blows it sky-high.

I've written quite a bit about creating believable characters in fiction. You can read it at my blog, under Creating Character.

Please feel free to drop by!