Characterization 101

There are many aspects of characters in real life and fiction, and accordingly, one of the greatest difficulties people have with creating characters is knowing where to start. Most of the time in narrative, one starts off with a physical description before going further. As we shall see, however, the physical world is only skin-deep, and the most important aspects of character come from other places.

We start these exercises with the simplest character possible: the stereotype. Stereotypes are particularly easy to write, because from very little description of the person--sometimes physical description alone is sufficient--a reader can infer all the character’s main traits and inner motivations necessary to the plot. If you were to describe someone as a “beady-eyed urban divorce lawyer with slicked-back hair and a pinstripe suit,” that single description could suffice for an entire story.

Your assignment: pick five stereotypes and write a paragraph for each. Don’t spend too long on each paragraph, but include 1. a physical description, 2. what the character is doing during a given moment, and 3. why they are doing it. Just as an example, our lawyer from above might be smirking as he prints out a standard legal contract for a client. His motivation? Suffice it to say that were he a cartoon character, an observer might actually see dollar signs circling his head...