by Gina Sestak
When we talk about characterization, we often seem to focus on creating a believable fictional person. We try to imagine a convincing backstory, if only for our own purposes. We ponder the idiosyncrasies. What color is his hair? How tall is she? Where was he born? What's her favorite tv show? Does he like lilacs? Will she ever jump out of a plane? How do we convey this information to a reader without turning the book into a laundry list of traits?
Even assuming we succeed in creating a compelling character, this approach leaves out an important part of the equation. No one exists in a vacuum, not even fictional people. They come most alive when interacting with each other. In order to create compelling characters, we need to come up with equally compelling relationships.
So, there it is. One more thing to worry about in a universe of "what to keep in mind while writing novels."
We've all been told most stories need a certain set of characters: a protagonist who's central to the action, a nemesis for challenge, a buddy to bounce things off of, a wise mentor, a romantic interest. The question is, how do we establish compelling relationships between these folks? Do they have to fall in love? Or hate? Can they just co-exist without becoming boring?
The subject came up in a critique group meeting last Saturday, when we were discussing movies. I mentioned how much I loathe Two For The Road, a 1967 film starring Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney. I never felt anything for the two main characters, I think because they never seemed really connected to each other, even though they play an ostensibly romantic couple falling in love.
If you want to see falling in love done right, here's a musical clip from a Bollywood film, Kabhi Khushie Kabhie Gham. Believe it or not, the tagline for this film is, "It's all about loving your parents."
[I can hear the critique group members groaning already. "Oh, no," they're saying. "She's been sending us Bollywood clips all weekend! Not another one!" Well, you can relax. I've already sent you this one.]
I'm not saying every character in fiction has to be in love. I'm just saying that a character should be in something.
Think about Harry Potter, for example. One thing that propels the series is Harry's strong emotional attachments - his hatred of Snape, his idolization of Dumbledore, his love for his deceased parents and for his friends. Can you imagine Harry without Ron or Hermione?
So, how do we go about putting relationships on paper, when we don't have actors, pyramids, or cinematographers available? Darned if I know. Does anyone have any good ideas? Please share them if you do.