Elaine Cantrell on Characterization

Welcome Elaine Cantrell to the blog! I’ve read her A New Dream, and it was a great read. Take it away, Elaine…

 

If you’re an author, you hope to create memorable characters who will help your story come alive and captivate your readers. Most authors, get to know their characters inside and out before they even begin a book, but how do they reveal their characters to the reader so that the reader understands the character too?

First, we learn about characters through their speech. What do you learn about Fred Emerson in this excerpt from A New Dream?

“Who brought you home?” demanded her father, Fred Emerson. “Where’s your car?”

 

“Alternator failure. It’s in the parking lot at work. The new manager, Matt McCallum, brought me home.” Violet hugged her mother Beth and her sister Jessie who both had a big pile of beans in front of them.

 

“You could have called me,” her father insisted.

Violet hung her purse on the coat rack near the door. “I knew you were busy with the garden stuff, Daddy. He offered, and I didn’t see any reason to turn him down.”

 

Fred snapped a bean with more vigor than necessary. “McCallum acted like a gentleman, I hope. Some of those pro-ball players don’t behave too well.”

 

Violet frowned. “He was a perfect gentleman, Daddy.”

 

“Good.” Fred tossed a handful of beans into a dishpan. “He’d better continue to be. I won’t tolerate anybody messing with my daughters. I don’t know what the world’s coming to these

days.”

Right off the bat we know that Fred is an old-fashioned, maybe overly protective father.

We also learn about characters from their appearance. What do you learn about my bad girl Stacey? She’s also from A New Dream.

Her style hadn’t changed much since she ran out on him. She still dressed to attract attention, and judging from the expression on several nearby male faces, she hadn’t lost her touch. She was wearing a short skirt, knee boots, and a sweater that was probably half a size too small. She looked as chic, expensive, and sexy as she ever had, but the sultry, come-hither look he’d always loved didn’t do much for him now.

 

So, Stacey’s an extrovert, sexy, likes men, and probably uses her looks to get what she wants.

 

A character’s private thoughts also tell us what he/she is like. What do you find out about my New Dream hero Matt McCallum? Matt was a pro-football player who lost his career when he lost a leg in an accident.

 

 

 

 

He had worked like a dog on that leg, but he still limped, and it felt like knives stabbed him with every step he took. His career was over, and he had lost almost everything he had loved and valued. Yeah, he felt drained.

 

Nevertheless, he always kept such dark thought to himself. God forbid he should invite anyone’s pity! He’d rather be dead first.

 

We see that Matt is depressed over the changes in his life. We also see that he’s a proud man who doesn’t want anyone’s pity.

 

We also learn about characters from the way others see him and react to him. In this excerpt, my New Dream hero told my heroine that he won’t leave her porch until she talks to him even though the weather is icy.

 

Dinnertime came and went, and Matt still sat on the porch. “I’m going to take him something to eat,” Beth declared. “He has to be starving.”

 

Violet guessed her mother was right. Matt had once told her that the effort of walking with a prosthesis burned additional calories, but the picture of Stacey etched in her brain hardened her heart. “He isn’t your problem, Mother. Leave him alone.”

 

Nerves on edge, Violet started to cry, and when she did Beth tackled Fred. “Fred Emerson, you do something right now! I’m not having it on my conscience if that young man freezes to death on my front porch, especially since I believe he’s telling the truth.”

 

“Mother! I thought you were on my side!”

 

Fred pounced on her statement like a cat on a catnip mouse. “I knew it! You’ve always liked him.”

 

“Well, you do something, and I mean now!”

 

Don’t you think it says a lot about Matt’s character that Violet’s mother believes he’s innocent of betraying Violet with another woman?

 

A character’s actions will reveal a lot about them too. What do you think this excerpt says about Matt?

 

Matt patted old Mrs. Watson on the arm. “I’m sorry for the confusion, ma’am.”

 

Bristling with indignation, the woman nodded her head. “See to it that it doesn’t happen again.”

 

As she stalked away, the red-faced cashier blurted out. “I wasn’t wrong.”

 

“I know it, but she’s old. Make a note of the amount, and I’ll put it in the register.” He winked at the cashier who no longer looked upset.

 

He smiled when he turned around and saw Sam Dickson watching him. “Coffee in my office?”

 

“Well, we aren’t going to drink it in the produce section are we?” Sam quipped.

 

He’s kind to old ladies? This is a nice guy!

 

And now, if you’re interested after reading so much about A New Dream, here’s the first part of the prologue. The book is available at http://www.astraeapress.com/#ecwid:category=662249&mode=product&product=2676585

 

Or, if you want a print version go to http://www.amazon.com/New-Dream-Elaine-Cantrell/dp/1461091047/ref=sr_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1306945508&sr=1-4

 

The red convertible cut a path through the moonlight, its headlights dancing along the arched limbs of the trees above the road.

 

“Oh, Matt, it’s such a beautiful night,” Stacey declared with a sigh. “I’m going to miss you when you leave tomorrow.”

 

Matt reached for her hand and brought it to his lips. “I’ll miss you too, but if I don’t report on time, I’m in trouble with the coach.”

 

“That’s what I get for falling in love with a pro football player,” Stacey teased, her blonde hair turned to frosted silver by the light of the full moon above them.

 

Matt squeezed her hand that wore his engagement ring. “It’s too late to back out now,” he teased. “You’re mine.”

 

“Mmm, do I like the sound of that!”

 

The car rounded a curve, and without warning a deer bounded across the road.

“Look out!” Stacey screamed.

 

Matt braked sharply to avoid the animal. The tires slid on a patch of loose gravel in the road, and he lost control of the convertible. It fishtailed and started to spin in the road.

Matt hauled the steering wheel to correct the slide, but it was useless. The car turned around once more and skidded backwards for a short distance before it charged off the road. It jumped a steep ditch and went airborne. All Matt could see was a blur of trees and darkness as the car careened into the woods. It made a lazy turn in the air and came to rest bottom side up.

 

The last thing he remembered was the sound of Stacey’s screams.

 

Thanks for reading!

Elaine Cantrell

Hope. Dreams. Life… Love

http://www.elainecantrell.com

http://www.elainepcantrell.blogspot.com

http://www.facebook.com/elainepcantrell

http://www.twitter.com/elainecantrell

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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  1. All really nice points and great examples, and definitely an illustration of revealing a character the way people gain a sense of others in real life (through words, appearance, and actions).

    I particularly liked the spare words in some of the dialogue samples and also in the description, since doing more with less is always a great touch, and lets a reader use their imagination to fill in the spaces (rather than over-describing).

  2. Matthew, thank you for your reply. I’m glad you found the article useful.

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