A popular post from February 2008
by Lu Ann Staheli
Characters exist in both fiction and non-fiction. In fiction we know these people, animals, or creatures as protagonists and antagonists. The protagonist is the good guy, the one we root for to get what they wanted in the end. The antagonist is the one who tries to stop our hero from reaching his or her goal. In non-fiction, the character is the narrator. This may be the voice of teacher, the sage, or simply one who has been there. Character roles may also be played by businesses, natural disasters, disease, or any one of hundreds of other topics covered in a non-fiction book.
In both fiction and non-fiction, we will likely see characters of two types. Major characters are those who play a significant role in bringing change. Often they change within themselves, growing through the learning they do. Because of this growth, they are known as round characters. A flat character plays a minor role in the story. Like bit players on the stage, these characters make brief appearances that rarely effect the outcome of the story.
An author must choose a point of view from which we will get to know the characters. First-person is most often used in adolescent novels where the reader wants to have a close connection to the main character, see what she sees, feel what she feels. Although rarely used, second person point of view might find a place in a non-fiction How To book, but writers must be careful not to sound too demanding when they use this voice. Perhaps the most difficult for the novice writer, but also the most accepted by editors and readers is third person point of view. Whether third person omniscient—the all seeing, all knowing god who understands what everyone is feeling—or the third person limited, who follows around a single character, describing all from their own point of view, using third person allows more freedom to the storyteller than either first or second person does.
Once an author knows their character and point of view, they begin to use syntax, diction, punctuation, and dialogue to develop the character, adding their own style. This becomes the author’s unique voice, a trait highly sought after by editors. Using the right voice for the desired audience will form a winning combination, a book that editors can’t let pass them by.