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11.12.2012 01:29    Comments: 0    Categories: Writing Characters  Fiction Elements  Fiction Writing  Writing  Writing Craft      Tags: h. thomas milhorn  characters  genre  fiction  guide  craft  

Key Elements (From Chapter 1 of  Writing Genre Fiction: A Guide to the Craft by H.T. Milhorn)


To create a fictional world that seems real to readers, writers use a minimum of six key elements:


1. Plot, Story and Structure
2. Setting
3. Characters
4. Point of View
5. Prose
6. Theme and Subject




Characterization is the creation of imaginary people (characters) who appear to be real and believable to readers. In most stories, characters and their interactions drive the plot and create the suspense and tension. Readers rely on the characters to draw them into the story.


Characters are usually human, but can be animals, aliens, robots, or anything you want them to be. Characters have names, physical appearances, and personalities. They often wear certain kinds of clothes, speak using slang or jargon, and sometimes have accents. They communicate with each other verbally and nonverbally.


Characters are classified as either major or minor, depending on the magnitudes of their roles in the story. Some characters may be either major or minor, also depending on their roles in the story.2,10,23-25




Also known as round characters, major characters are three dimensional figures. Their goals, ambitions, and values change as a result of what happens to them. Therefore, they are referred to in literature as dynamic characters. A dynamic character progresses to a higher level of understanding in the course of the story. Like real people, they have particular fears, aspirations, strengths and weaknesses, secrets, and sensitivities. They are not all good or all bad. The two major characters in fiction are the protagonist and the antagonist.


The protagonist (hero) is the character who dominates the story. He is a complex character who usually has three attributes: (1) A need or a want (prevent the murder, solve the crime, win the heart a loved one, escape from prison, get revenge for his wife’s murder), (2) a strong point (courage, wisdom, persistence, kindness) that confers on him the potential for triumph, and (3) a flaw (alcoholism, prejudice, greed, fear of heights or crowds) that, unless overcome, may lead to his downfall.


The main character is the person the audience views the story through. Most of the time the main character is the protagonist; at other times the main character is a narrator, and at other times a secondary character. Each gives valuable insights into the protagonist from an outside prospective.


The antagonist (villain) is any character who opposes the efforts of the protagonist. He’s the bad guy. There wouldn't be much conflict for your protagonist to overcome without the antagonist to throw up roadblocks. Many stories have only a single antagonist, or one main one, while longer works, especially novels, may have more than one.


Like the protagonist, the antagonist is a three-dimensional character, and he must be a worthy opponent. He should be an intelligent, logical character who does what he does because his reasons make sense to him. No one sees himself as mean, evil, or insane; the antagonist doesn’t either. To him, his actions and his logic are perfectly sound.1,13,23-27




Also known as flat characters, minor characters are almost always one or two-dimensional characters; that is, they only have one or two striking qualities. Unlike major characters, they usually are all good or all bad and intentionally lack depth. Minor characters are sometimes referred to as static characters because they don’t change in the course of the story. They can be bit players, stock characters, or sacrificial characters.


Bit players can be passing suspects in mysteries, incidental friends, coworkers, neighbors, waitresses, clerks, maintenance people, doormen, and so forth. The more important ones can be given some quirk or bit of color that lifts them somewhat above the masses (a maintenance man who spits snuff into a paper cup, a secretary who always wears black lipstick, a doorman who is always intoxicated).


A stock character is a stereotyped character, such as a mad scientist, an absent-minded professor, a spiteful mother-in-law, or a dumb blonde. In general, these characters should be avoided, unless you have a really good reason for using them.


Sacrificial characters (chauffeurs, double agents, crooked policemen, mistresses, and so forth) are killed in the course of the story for various reasons, including to keep them from revealing critical information to the protagonist. Also, the protagonist may kill one or more skilled opponents simply to demonstrate his prowess to the reader.1,13,23-27




Some characters can be either major or minor depending on their roles in the story. These include foil characters, eccentrics, psychos, memorable characters, and phobics.


A foil is a piece of shiny metal put under gemstones to increase their brightness. Foil characters are closely associated with the character for whom they serve as a foil, usually a friend or lover whom he can confide in and thus disclose his innermost thoughts. They serve to bring out the brilliance of the character to whom they serve as a foil. Note that the foil can be a supporter of any of the characters, not just the protagonist. Some foil characters are included for comedy relief; others are included to reinforce the goal or the beliefs of the character they support. Still others are introduced to provide contrast. Foil characters also are known as confidants, sidekicks, or faithful followers.


Eccentrics follow their own rules of behavior. They know their code is right and everyone else’s is wrong. An eccentric might be miserly despite being a multimillionaire, arrange bills by serial number in his wallet, avoid stepping on cracks in the sidewalk, believe the world is flat, or wear earmuffs in August.


The psycho character, on the surface, often appears normal, but the reader knows that he is not. In fact, the psycho may be normal in all aspects of his life but one, and that one is strange and bizarre, often hidden from the public. For instance, the psycho might appear to be a mild mannered accountant during the day, but wander through neighborhoods at night killing cats. Or worse, he brutally murders women who look like the old girlfriend who rejected him.


The memorable character may wear wildly colored clothes, have an extraordinary height or weight, be a priest who grows pot in the church’s rectory, or be an idiot savant. To create a memorable character, writers select some unique aspect of body, mind, or personality. They exaggerate it and make it striking and colorful.


A phobic character is one with a persistent, abnormal, and irrational fear of a specific thing or situation that compels him to avoid the object of his phobia despite knowing that it is not dangerous. A character may be afraid of cats, bats, microbes, heights, closed spaces, or almost anything.1,13,23-27




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