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Steve’s Weekly Blog – Sept 14 – Characterization

One of the first classes I took in Graduate School was on Young Adult Fantasy Fiction. We read and evaluated 13 books. Since I had not read anything in the genre, it was a great opportunity to take a step back and evaluate the construction of novels in the genre. For my final project, my classmates and I evaluated each of the 13 novels on overall likeability and then evaluated component parts such as plot, storyline, characterization, setting and creativity. In short, we found that characterization in the novels was the single most important element in overall likeability.
When I take a step back and look at my top ten favorite books, the common thread is that I enjoy and relate to the main characters. The genre, plot, setting and styles vary widely.
On the surface, this is no surprise. However, when you look at the time and energy a writer puts into a novel, it is the plot that is always the focus. You have to drive to get the story (ie plot) out there. In a similar manner, when you consider how a novel is selected and sold to a reader, it is the story, plot and setting that are the most important components.
When you try to sell a novel across a table, it is very difficult to convince a reader that your characters are wonderful enough to get them to buy a book. Every writer tells potential readers that the characters are witty, imaginative and engaging. It does not do much to complete the sale.
In summary, a reader selects a book based upon a general understanding of the story, plot and setting, but loves a book based upon characters. One of the reason novels written in a series are so popular is that the readers already know and enjoy the characters.
I’m in the midst of drafting my third novel and find myself putting all of my energy in working through the storyline. Once I get the first draft done, I need to remember to go back and look at the entire work with a focus on how the main characters are developed and portrayed. Even though character development may not impact sales it is the primary basis for impacting the overall reader likeability.

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