I am starting to realize just how FULL of things I use McKee's STORY is. And I have not even gotten into his analysis of Story design. And it should be noted that I am just giving you the highlights as they occur to me. The subject matter is huge.
As an side, I understand, his workshops are great as well. He goes through Casablance scene by scene.
Right, so here is today's bit on character and characterization.
Characterization is observable -- everything knowable through human scrunity, the hair colour, the eyes, house, the mode of transport, education etc etc The sum total of these characteristics makes an unique being, but it does not really tells anything about true character. This is often wht one feels out on character questionaires btw. As an aside, I rtend not fill out the questionaires until after I have completed the first draft. If I can't do it WITHOUT thinking too deeply then, then I don't know enough about my characters. I may not have written about a favourite thing, but I will know what the favourite thing has to be. Other writers approach it differently, but it is what works for me as often time, character is not cut instone until I have reached the climatic moment.
True Character is only reveaked when a human being is put under pressure. The greater the pressure, the more significant the choice. Choices made when nothing is at risk mean nothing. It is the choices your protagonist makes when she is under pressure, that reveal her inner core of humanity.
You need to make sure that the pressure is continually applied and that she has to make choices that have consequences. the choices she makes will reveal her innner humanity, in a way that makes her resonate with the reader. Making a chioice where there in no consequence is not really a choice. Choosing to tell the truth when a lie will save her life is very different than choosing to tell the truth when nothing will happen to her.
A protagonist is always a willful being. She makes proactive, not passive choices. It are these choices that define the story.
Equally, the revelation of true character as opposed to characterization is what fine storytelling is all about. For example, if your protagonist first appears to be a loving wife blindly devoted to her husband and at the end is still a loving wife blindly devoted to her huband, you have created a character with no growth arc and the character will feel flat. Through the pressure applied, characters need to reveal their inner cores and grow. Character arc changes inner nature for better or worse in the course of the story.
The revaltion of true character must effect the climax. If the climax fails, the story fails. The ultimate pressure needs to be put on at the climax. It is the blackest of black moments when the hardest choices have to be made.
One good trick he does say is to consider which actor/actress you would have play the role? What would happen if a different actor played it? How would the character change? What would be different about that character?
He also says FALL IN LOVE with your characters. The reader can tell when a writer is not in love with his characters as they do not possess the same depth. Embrace all of your characters. Note this does not mean protect your characters. It means putting them under pressure and seeing how they react.
He also says -- self knowledge leads to great character. The only person you can ever know truly is yourself. The root of all character writing is personal experience and personal emotion. The more you can understand your own humanity, the better your characters will be. Human emotions are what you want to write, and the only human emotions you can directly expereince are your own. The same is true for Hemingway, Steinbeck, Shakespeare, Moliere, Austen and Dickens. The only emotions they ever directly experienced were their own. It is the ability to communicate those emotions that results in fine writing.
Much of this is probably not revolutionary, but I do like the way he says it and his examples. When I first read Story, it made sense.