There are two main factors in the making of a good book; plot (which has already been dealt with in this column) and characterization. Characterization can be defined as the development of a character’s personality traits, their motives, their thoughts, and how he or she interacts with others in the story.
A character can be defined as the person, animal or thing that populates a story and provides the action for the reader, for they are the actors in the author’s own original “play”. So as stated, a character does not necessarily have to be a person, but a thing like some overwhelming obstacle such as a disability or a “waste howling” wilderness in a jungle full of man-eating snakes to survive. In one of C.S, Lewis’s most famous stories, for instance we have all three types, a Lion (an animal), a Witch (person), and even a Wardrobe which is an inanimate material object.
Generally speaking, there are two types of main characters in the story, the protagonist or the hero of the story who is either trying to pursue some kind of a quest, reach a goal, or overcome an obstacle of some sort and an antagonist who throws up the obstacles and provides the conflict for the story. But you do want to make sure that your characters are three dimensional and round, with more than one side to their personality, such as the Hitler villain type who has a slight good side in his personality in that he dearly loves his trained attack dog or the saintly hero type who has a thorn in his flesh and a penchant for chocolate cake that make him fat and greedy at the dinner table for instance.
You also want your primary characters to be dynamic in that at the conclusion of the story some sort of a change for the better is effected in them, especially in your protagonist, your villain however can emerge more evil and depraved as ever, especially if he or she has been thwarted or if your antagonist is a pure psychopath such as the Joker in the Batman movies. However, as in the case of a sad ending your hero can actually also emerge more frail or with more obstacles than at the beginning such as a brave Jane Eyre who now has to care for a blind and disabled husband at the end of the book and her real hard work and trials begin.
And avoid those flat one-sided stock characters if you can, such as the good guys in the old standard Western movies who always wear white hats, unless you, of course, you are writing strictly to entertain an audience and not shooting for creating fine art. A lot of what goes into characterization depends on the objectives and the imagination of the individual writer.
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