Showing posts with label fiction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label fiction. Show all posts

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Character Definitions and Creative Techniques



An Examination of the role of CHARACTER in literary texts

Superficially ... “A person in a story, someone we can relate to, or identify with ...”

But Note:

Caricature – 2-dimensinal, simple, represents one value, e.g. the angry man, jealousy = related to allegory and satire = distortion for effect of one quality, or exaggeration of certain features; stereotypes

Narrative functions – hero/villain, trickster, false hero, magician, father/son, mother/daughter, outcast, rebel.

In real life people that we come to know well are seldom just functions or caricatures.

Real living people in the media, or celebrities, often have an assumed character or role that might be quite different from how they are in their personal life. In texts, an assumed role is called a persona, in the media we even talk about ‘personalities’ to express the public projection of a role. Perceptions of role or character can also be manipulated e.g. spin doctors and propagandists may want to present a politician with ‘strong leadership qualities and empathy.’

First person – autobiographical, “I”, my story.

Third person – author/omniscient narrator may provide insights into what they are thinking and feeling – free indirect narrative (author comments). “ ‘Yeah,’he muttered, feeling guilty about what he had done.”

You do not have to describe a character in full at the outset – you can build up the sense of a character through the accumulation of details, observed behaviour, speech patterns ...

Historical – based on real people
Realistic – true-to-life, psychological, inner life and physical appearance;
3-dimensional, complex
Fantastic – imaginary – don’t even have to be human.


Development – some are static, others grow and develop from birth through childhood and adolescence to adult life. A Bildungsroman has the development of a central character across his/her life as a central preoccupation. An example of Charles Dickens's Great Expectations or David Copperfield.

Leading or primary characters – occupy key roles and focalise points of view. Often linked to the idea of the hero/heroine.

Supporting / secondary characters – help to illustrate the main theme, or to develop sub-plots.

Note the key role of dialogue to SHOW and REVEAL characters and their relationships

- accent/dialect                           
- lexis
- grammar                                
- colloquialisms, slang, blasphemy, coarse
- polished and elegant, urbaned and civilized
- tone
- monosyllabic or oratorical (speeches)

Conflict and relationships are essential for building character, and for moving the story forward.

The hero’s JOURNEY / progress involves – threats, obstacles, reversals, tricks, irony, metamorphosis, tests, deviations. Many stories have these structural elements.

Too much inconsistency leads to incredulity (disbelief) in the mind of the reader.

Wider Contexts:

characters display causation as a result of factors such as environment/ family/ social class; these aspects allow the development of ideas and themes.

Avoid confusing a character’s voice, or that of the narrator, with the author's. Don't try to guess authorial intentions! This called the inentional fallacy!

Remember that some characters are ironic – perhaps the narrator/author is having a laugh at their expense?

In Gulliver’s Travels, author Jonathan Swift manipulates the voice of Gulliver so that the reader sometimes supports, and at other times opposes Gulliver's point of view.

This means that there is a degree of inconsistency, and perhaps we should refer to Gulliver as a satirical persona, mouthpiece, or rhetorical device, rather than a character in the tradition of the realist novel.

Monday, 19 August 2013

What's wrong with using "said" in composition and creative writing?


Let's be clear: it is not incorrect to write 'he said' or 'she said.'

In fact, it may be advantageous to let the dialogue do the work and to leave the specific manner or tone of speech to the reader's imagination. The reader often has an intuitive grasp of the flow of emotions.

Close examination shows that there are many options if you want to replace the word 'said', but sometimes you don't need to use it at all.

The word 'said' also preserves a potential ambiguity. Again this can be helpful in creative writing if you do not want to direct the reader to a specific interpretation. Why not trust the reader to unmask irony and double-meanings in the speech? Often, the writer who lacks confidence wants to fill in all the gaps. Sometimes it is better to be less busy, and to leave some space for the reader to work on the prose. Writing presupposes a partnership; it is not a dictatorship.

The word 'said' can also be complemented by an action, or by a descriptive phrase:

He said, slipping the gold coin into his greasy pocket

Returning the frightened mouse to its cage, she said

This technique helps to develop character or to reveal a new aspect of a situation that contributes to plot development. Remember that readers enjoy hints; they enjoy being taken into confidence and they enjoy moments of revelation. What readers dislike is a unwieldy smack in the face.

Another advantage of the word 'said' is that it is unobtrusive. It does not draw attention to itself. Words such as beseeched or chortled tend to stand out, and they may also sound rather stilted and old-fashioned unless you're writing sensational fiction or romance.

In many cases it is possible to present dialogue without pointing to who the speaker and signifying how they spoke. By repeatedly inserting 'he said' or 'she said'  the flow of speech is interrupted, and the effect may become mechanical and monotonous. Effective dialogue requires pace: too much commentary from the writer is intrusive and tiresome. An irritated reader stops reading.

Excessive use of words other than said also runs the risk of starting to sound ridiculous. Writing should not sound like a regurgitated thesaurus! Sometimes writers try too hard to improve their writing and fall into a new category of error.

Try reading your work aloud if you are unsure about appropriate usage. By listening to your work you will move slowly from the craft of composition to the art of writing.

But if you do want to gain a sense of the rich opportunities for variation afforded by the English language there are more than 107 Ways to Avoid the word "said"

  1. Acknowledged 
  2. Added
  3. Admitted
  4. Affirmed
  5. Agreed
  6. Alleged
  7. Announced
  8. Answered
  9. Appealed
  10. Asked
  11. Asserted
  12. Barked
  13. Bawled
  14. Beckoned
  15. Begged
  16. Bellowed
  17. Beseeched
  18. Blubbered
  19. Blurted out
  20. Carped
  21. Cautioned
  22. Chortled
  23. Chuckled
  24. Claim
  25. Conceded
  26. Concurred
  27. Confessed
  28. Confided
  29. Confirmed
  30. Contended
  31. Continued
  32. Cried
  33. Croaked
  34. Declared
  35. Entreated
  36. Exclaimed
  37. Explained
  38. Fumed
  39. Giggled
  40. Grinned
  41. Groaned
  42. Growled
  43. Grumbled
  44. Hesitated
  45. Hinted
  46. Hissed
  47. Howled
  48. Implied
  49. Implored
  50. Indicated
  51. Informed
  52. Inquired
  53. Insisted
  54. Jabbered
  55. Joked
  56. Lamented
  57. Laughed
  58. Lilted
  59. Maintained
  60. Moaned
  61. Mocked
  62. Murmured
  63. Mused
  64. Noted
  65. Observed
  66. Offered
  67. Ordered
  68. Pleaded
  69. Preached
  70. Proclaimed
  71. Promised
  72. Proposed
  73. Protested
  74. Queried
  75. Quipped
  76. Ranted
  77. Remarked
  78. Remonstrated
  79. Repeated
  80. Replied
  81. Requested
  82. Retorted
  83. Roared
  84. Scoffed
  85. Scolded
  86. Shouted
  87. Shrieked
  88. Snarled
  89. Sobbed
  90. Specified
  91. Spluttered
  92. Stammered
  93. Stated
  94. Stuttered
  95. Stressed
  96. Suggested
  97. Swore
  98. Taunted
  99. Teased
  100. Testified
  101. Thundered
  102. Wailed
  103. Warned
  104. Whimpered
  105. Whined
  106. Whispered
  107. Yelled
  108.  
Dr Ian McCormick is the author of

The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences (Quibble Academic 2013) 

Also available on Kindle, or to download.

Dr Ian McCormick served
until recently as Professor in the Arts at the University of Northampton. He works as a teaching adviser in educational creativity and participatory methodology. He has recently written a book on Shakespearean Tragedy.