Wednesday, 26 April 2017

The Most Common Characterization Mistake Writers Make and How To Fix It

The Most Common Characterization Mistake Writers Make and How To Fix It

ˈˌself əˈwernəs/
  1. conscious knowledge of one's own character, feelings, motives, and desires.

    "the process can be painful but it leads to greater self-awareness"

One of the most common characterization mistakes writers are guilty of is making their characters too self-aware. Inner monologue is a great tool, it lets the reader in on secrets, gives the character dimension, but it can also be the biggest stumbling block to the story.

There's nothing less satisfying than a character who analyses every decision, weighs the pros and cons, and keeps coming back to the same inner struggle over and over again. The reader gets it, there's a theme, but repetition kills the tension.

The good news is that this can be easily fixed!

Beware of using inner dialogue to provide an ongoing narration rather than what it really is, a response to immediate events. Keep it authentic!

And just like over analysing the decision, your character should be a little clueless about their faults, strengths, dreams/goals. These are qualities the character is supposed to discover through their struggle as the story progresses. By the end these traits will come to the surface and that's when the wonderful self-awareness happens in the hero's journey.

Okay, so how can you fix this?

Here are things your character should NOT do:

1. While in the middle of a crisis, they shouldn't be providing a narration as if they're an outside source watching with an emotional detachment.

2. They shouldn't label their emotions. Instead of your character thinking, "I'm so angry!" The anger should manifest itself in your character's actions and choices (without them realizing it).

3. The shouldn't analyse all the possible reasons behind all their emotions. "I'm angry because my boyfriend doesn't love me anymore." No, look at reason number 2. The analysing shouldn't come until they've made choices that lead to disaster. No one in real life figures it out that quickly so why should your character?

4. When your character is in a highly emotional scene, their self-awareness should be negligible. This is why when you're angry you shouldn't send that email right away. You wait until you're less emotional and thinking more clearly. Your character shouldn't use calm logic when they're being dumped by their lover. The place for this growth can begin during the following scene to provide a few subtle sparks of self-awareness (this hints at the coming revelation and is more enticing to the reader). 

Remember it's not just their flaws, their strengths should be waiting to be discovered as well.

Now go make your character clueless!


  1. Insightful post, Daphne. And I agree with everything you've said. It's often the easy way out to use your character to narrate feelings and self awareness but as you say, rarely authentic. And it makes your story flat. Much better to have a complicated and real character arc that leads to that lightbulb moment. xx

  2. I absolutely agree. I wonder at some readers expectations that a hero or heroine should act in a rational deliberative way when the authentic thing to do in a crisis might to act rashly or emotionally and begin to sort out everything as the story progresses. That sorting out, those realizations that a character makes as the story goes along make for an authentic journey -otherwise we have perfect people acting perfectly in the moment when reality it's quite the opposite. And it's no fun to read about either.

  3. That was the best thing I learned from one of my editors - not having the character label their emotions, but display them with or without realizing it. The clenching of the jaw, the tightening of the grip, knuckles turning white on the steering wheel... if only I could remember to do it all the time!

    great post!

  4. Excellent post! I tend to write the first draft with a lot of inner monologue, read it over and groan, then attempt to get rid of all of it and use the emotions/description instead.

  5. Great post. Thanks!
    Judy Meadows

  6. Thanks for all the comments, everyone! I'm glad it was helpful. ~Daphne


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