Saturday, November 7, 2015

“Grandmother, What Long Arms You Have.” Or “Excuse Me? But, Who Are You, Really?” by Tia Dani

This month we'd like to talk about characterization.

In 1916, author Charles Perrault may have inadvertently given a writing lesson when he penned his fairy tale, Little Red Riding-Hood. Listen as we hear the wolf’s answer to Little Red Riding-Hood’s statement of having long arms. “All the better to hug you with, my little girl.”

     The wolf was no fool.

He knew, in order to get close to the girl, he would have to act and talk exactly like Grandmother. If not, Little Red Riding-Hood wouldn't be tricked into undressing and climbing into bed with him.
Undressed? Climb into bed? Hmmm, do you suppose there’s the makings of a romance plot here? Granted, in Perrault’s story, the wolf’s objective was to eat Little Red Riding-Hood, but still, the possibilities are—

Wait! We digress. This article is supposed to be on characterization, not on Little Red Riding-Hood and the wolf’s hungry cravings.

Okay, let’s get back to characterization. Normally in fiction, there are male and female protagonists. And...the author’s gender is either male or female. So how can an author effectively portray a character’s gender opposite of their own?

Surprisingly the concept is not a contemporary one. Gender characterization was discussed in an 1898, New York periodical called The Munesy Magazine.

   In Wolf’s Clothing  
When women writers take to trousers and march through their novels as first person heroes—“I, George Wharton, a bachelor of thirty four”—it is amusing to see that every movement betrays the goddess. The more aggressively mannish the attitude, the more palpable the illusion. Their masculine valor, like that of a stage courtier, depends on the little outward signs, the swish of a stick, the crook of an elbow, or the angle of a knee. They smoke a cigarette and say “damn,” and think by that they have achieved masculinity. Yet the veriest hayseed in the top gallery grins at the masquerade.

It is the gait that betrays them. The average feminine mind trips lightly forward on pointed toes, with many little excursions and minute explorations to the right and left. The man, as a usual thing, stumps gravely along, leaving deep heel marks at wide intervals, and passing the details with blank indifference. Their respective ways of exchanging confidences show this better than anything. A woman tells what led up to an episode, just how it happened, and what he said, and what she had on, spinning a good hour of reminiscence out of a fifteen minute event. A man states the fact boldly, filling in the interstices with confidential silence and tobacco smoke. A genius can achieve this, rising superior to sex by the magic of intuition, but geniuses are rare among authors nowadays. The average woman rarely creates a man of men when she herself plays the title role. 

* * *

What is it with these 1800's men? Why is it that a woman can rarely create a man of men? What about a man creating a woman of women? Wouldn't he have the same problem?

Oh, never mind, we’re wandering again.

Characterization. We do understand Munesy’s point. If an author is female and she endeavors to write in a male character’s viewpoint, she must be absolutely certain that she doesn’t color it with her own feminine logic. The same, therefore, must go for a male author writing a female viewpoint.

One of the hardest tasks in writing is to write from a gender’s viewpoint opposite their own. And, get it right! An author would be wise to run his or her efforts by someone of the opposite gender. Ask if the character sounds like something a man (or woman) would say or do in that same situation. Also it’s best to keep some important things in mind when developing gender characters. Men tend to think in terms of hierarchies and women think in terms of groups. Men perceive a chain of command and the challenge for leadership. Women have a communal view. Everybody works together and everyone’s opinions should count.

Correct gender identification, however, isn't the only type of character development that is important. All fictional characters are normally human beings without a body, made entirely of words. You might say these characters live in a world of pure language or pure spirit. The trick is to make certain they come to life as believable, complex, living, human beings.

A successful author cam enter a character’s literary protoplasm skin and understand him. What makes realistic and memorable characters come alive, an author should define the character, master them, and, finally, create them. Though creating them is considered to be the most difficult, mastering is the most crucial. Mastering creditable personalities, sometimes means that an author has to step beyond the boundaries of what they perceive as normal, or believe what is right or wrong, especially if a character’s persona does not fit within a writer’s comfort level.

Unfortunately, an author can’t just snap his or her fingers and switch genders in order to understand what the other sex thinks, nor can they wave a magic wand over themselves and become a victim of abuse in one moment, and become a raving, psychopathic killer the next. To know either of those characters, an author might have to, as they say, walk the walk.

Granted, not everyone can, or is willing to, interact with a deranged killer, just so they can comprehend how a murderer thinks, or live daily with the life choices of an abuse victim. But what if you could? How far are you willing to go to understand your characters completely? Or, would it even be worth it?

It was for the wolf in Little Red Riding-Hood. And we all know how that story ended.

Happy writing!

                                                                   Graphics courtesy of  Ike's World

To find out more about the writing team Tia Dani and our books visit us at Books We Love: Tia Dani

Time's Enduring Love, our historical time-travel is a Books We Love Best Seller.

                                                                                  CALL DOWN THE DARKNESS                                                                 

Tia Dani is the multi-published writing team made up of good friends Christine E. Jones and Beverly Petrone. Together they create endearing and realistic characters, humorous dialogue, and unusual settings. And…best of all…they're having the time of their lives.