Character:

(To survey other elements and author quotes, visit the Elements of Fiction home page)

 “Keep them people, people, people, and don’t let them get to be symbols. Remember the race is older than the economic system.” Ernest Hemingway

“People are not the principal subject of fiction; they are its only subject.” William Sloane

“Every character who enters fiction needs vivid rendering.” John Gardner

“Every character comes into being with a name (which I may change), and age, a nationality, a profession, a particular voice and accent, a family background, a personal history, a destination, qualities, secrets, an attitude toward love, ambition, money, religion, and a private center of gravity.” Mavis Gallant

“The moment when a character does or says something you hadn’t thought about. At that moment he’s alive and you leave him to it.” Graham Greene

“Of course, that wonderful thing, a character running away with you—which happens to everyone—that’s happened to me, I’m afraid.” E.M. Forster

“I followed Caddy around and wrote down what she did.” William Faulkner [when asked how he wrote The Sound and the Fury]

“Flawed characters are the unforgettable ones.” Susan Shaughnessy

“If they aren’t in interesting situations, characters cannot be major characters, not even if everyone else is talking about them.” P.G. Wodehouse

“What is character but the determination of incident? What is incident but the illustration of character?” Henry James

“A writer begins by breathing life into his characters. But if you are very lucky, they breathe life into you.” Caryl Phillips

“I’ve never taken Ideas but always characters for my starting point.” Ivan Turgenev

“If one is not going to make cardboard characters it is important to say that even people who do terrible things are not unrelievedly terrible people, or at least that they are not always terrible: there can be moments when they behave well.” Salman Rushdie

“I didn’t want just to make hate-figures, I wanted to make people.” Salman Rushdie

“Character is the kind of thing which discloses the nature of a choice.” Aristotle

“Make the people live. Make them live. But my people must be more than people. They must be an over-essence of people.” John Steinbeck

“It would be a great joke on the people in my book if I just left them high and dry, waiting for me. If they bully me and do what they choose I have them over a barrel. They can’t move until I pick up a pencil. They are frozen, turned to ice standing one foot up and with the same smile they had yesterday when I stopped.” John Steinbeck

“Character is life in action.” Ulf Wolf

“I can ease my heart inside another character’s until I feel what he or she feels and think the way he or she thinks.” Terry McMillan

“I can’t remember setting off on my travels without having some picture of a character to take with me; I mean, really as a companion.” John le Carre

 “Jane Eyre is one of the most outstanding of . . . the character novel, and that is not simply a novel in which character plays a great part—because character does that in all novels—but one in which the story is architected round a single person, and one in which, usually, such persons show power to influence their own destiny so that the story springs from them. Things happen because of what they are and what they do. In themselves they precipitate situations.” Elizabeth Bowen

“The hidden life is, by definition, hidden. The hidden life that appears in external signs is hidden no longer, has entered the realm of action. And it is the function of the novelist to reveal the hidden life at its source: to tell us more about Queen Victoria than could be known, and thus to produce a character who is not the Queen Victoria of history.” E.M. Forster

“The characters’ responses to the world around them gives the reader insight into their personalities, just as it does to anyone you see on the street. Let the sun, wind, rain, and objects in their immediate surroundings help reveal your character’s thoughts and feelings.” Othello Bach

“Sympathetic characters are good people who have problems, so it’s easy to have sympathy for them.” Othello Bach

“Believable characters respond to life in the same way that real people respond.” Othello Bach

“Characters who are mentally or emotionally different are unique in their responses.” Othello Bach

“Quirks, or peculiar traits, generally make a character more interesting. Early in a book, such differences often help the reader keep the characters straight. A small gesture, a harmless habit, can go a long way in defining a character.” Othello Bach

“When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature. If a writer can make people live there may be no great characters in his book, but it is possible that his book will remain as a whole; as an entity; as a novel.” Ernest Hemingway

“It might seem that the writer needs a gift of mimicry, like an impersonator, to achieve this variety of voices. But it isn’t that. It’s more like what a serious actor does, sinking self in character-self. It’s a willingness to be the characters, letting what they think and say rise from inside them. It’s a willingness to share control with one’s creation.” Ursula K. Le Guin

“A story involves, in a dramatic way, the mystery of personality. I lent some stories to a country lady who lives down the road from me, and when she returned them, she said, ‘Well, them stories just gone and shown how some folks would do,’ and I thought to myself that that was right; when you write stories, you have to be content to start exactly there—showing how some specific folks will do, will do in spite of everything.” Flannery O’Connor

“People in a novel, not skillfully constructed characters, must be projected from the writer’s assimilated experience, from his knowledge, from his head, from his heart and from all there is of him. If he ever has luck as well as seriousness and gets them out entire they will have more than one dimension and they will last a long time.” Ernest Hemingway

“My characters never show the depth of my feelings and they would be wrong if they did. You have to leave space for the reader’s feelings to meet yours.” John Fowles [my italics—UW]

“To have sympathy for any character, you have to put a good deal of yourself in him.” Flannery O’Connor

“It may sound a commonplace to say that the author should know his characters: do we grasp, though, what such knowingness comprehends? First, outwardly, all must be known about them—race, class, heredity, place and date of birth, the environment of the youth and childhood, education, profession, amount of income or salary, family life (if any), place and nature of residence, and career or adventures up to the point where the character enters our given story. In fact, as to each of his men and women the author does well to compile a dossier, written or otherwise—if not written, kept ready in the file of the mind. Why? Because outer circumstance, in itself important, does also work on the inner being. And when it does come to the inner being, the author must, in each of his cases, know those with a sort of passionless depth. His penetrating closeness to his characters can have the virtue (rarer with intimacies in real life) of being almost unclouded by emotion. And, in one way, he has the possibility of knowing them better than he knows himself; for he is unlikely to have the time, the occasion or inclination to watch himself either as continuously or with the same fervour as he watches them. It may, of course, be said that he is creating his characters by knowing them: in the early stages of his relations with them that may be true; but later they gain objective reality, turn around and being to teach him about themselves. Complete and detached as beings, they reveal, as beings do, complexities, inconsistencies, contradictions; and, through being three-dimensional, that take on shadow.” Elizabeth Bowen

“Although in real life communists are sometimes charming people, they are never presented as such [in cheap fiction], because in the light of intensional orientations, anyone called ‘communist’ cannot at the same time be ‘charming.’” S.I. Hayakawa

“For me the obligation is to present my characters realistically. They must be credible human beings even if the circumstances they are in are ‘incredible,’ as they are in The Collector. But even the story, no matter how bizarre, no matter what symbolisms are involved, has to be possible. . . . Believability must dominate even the most outlandish situation.” John Fowles

“Tarwater is made up of my saying: what would I do here?” Flannery O’Connor

“I think you are wrong that heroes have to be stable. If they were stable there wouldn’t be any story. It seems to me that all good stories are about conversion, about a character’s changing.” Flannery O’Connor

“With the serious writer, violence is never an end in itself. It is the extreme situation that best reveals what we are essentially.” Flannery O’Connor

“If he is going to pieces to this extent in the end, I think you ought to indicate earlier that he is capable of going to pieces. Usually people who are this dumb can’t be shattered.” Flannery O’Connor

“A character introduced merely in terms of static detail may catch the reader’s eye if the detail is dramatic enough, implicative enough, but it is motion that convinces the reader that the character is alive.” Oakley Hall

“Many writers talk about the moment in a narrative when their characters ‘come to life’ and exercise their own decisions about what they’ll do (it’s almost a cliché of creative process).” Madison Smart Bell

“I tried to make them individual, so they both have individual faults.” John Fowles

“The writer’s characters must stand before us with a wonderful clarity, such continuous clarity that nothing they do strikes us as improbable behavior for just that character, even when the character’s action is, as sometimes happens, something that comes as a surprise to the writer himself. We must understand, and the writer before us must understand, more than we know about the character; otherwise neither the writer nor the reader after him could feel confident of the character’s behavior when the character acts freely.” John Gardner

“Dragons, like bankers and candy-store owners, must have firm and predictable characters.” John Gardner

“In daily life we never understand each other, neither complete clairvoyance nor complete confessional exists. We know each other approximately, by external signs, and these serve well enough as a basis for society and even for intimacy. But people in a novel can be understood completely by the reader, if the novelist wishes; their inner as well as their outer life can be exposed. And this is why they often seem more definite than characters in history, or even our own friends; we have been told all about them that can be told; even if they are imperfect or unreal they do not contain any secrets, whereas our friends do and must, mutual secrecy being one of the conditions of life upon this globe.” E.M. Forster

“I can only tell you that if you see a character starting to breathe, you do not shut him up, you do not sit on him, and you do not ship him out. You stay with him.” Martin Cruz Smith

“Characterization is the presentation of the nature of the people in a story. Characterization is really the presentation of motives. We understand a person if we understand what makes him act the way he does.” Ayn Rand

“The main means of characterization are action and dialogue—just as it is only by means of their actions and words that one can observe the characters of other people in real life. There is no way to know the soul (the consciousness) of another except by means of physical manifestations: his actions and words (not his words in the sense of philosophical declarations, but his words in the context of his actions). The same applies to fiction.” Ayn Rand

“Also, when you begin writing, write only as much as you are sure of. Do not force your characters into artificial behavior. . . . If you do not know what a character would do or say, you simply have to give it some more thought.” Ayn Rand

“I have talked about the same kind of circle in relation to plot: to project an abstract theme, you must devise the concrete events from which the reader will in turn derive that theme. The same applies to characterization: to project a convincing character, you need to have an idea of the basic premises or motives which move his actions—and by means of these actions, the reader will discover what is at the root of the character.” Ayn Rand

“I want to emphasize that a character can have enormous conflicts and contradictions—but then these have to be consistent. You must select his actions so that the reader grasps: ‘This is what’s the trouble with this character.’” Ayn Rand

“When you draw a character, everything that you say about him acquires significance by the mere fact of being included in your story.” Ayn Rand

“You can project your character only by means of what you say on paper; but behind every line and action, there is much more than what you put in words. No action is taken in a vacuum, and an alert reader is automatically watching for the meaning of every line and action.” Ayn Rand

“The art (and difficulty) of Romantic characterization is to present the archetypical—that which is typical of any individualist like Roark or any second-hander like Keating—while at the same time giving enough specific detail so that the character comes across as this particular human being.” Ayn Rand

“Having discussed the story—that simple and fundamental aspect of the novel—we can turn to a more interesting topic. We need not ask what happened next, but to whom did it happen; the novelist will be appealing to our intelligence and imagination, not merely to our curiosity. A new emphasis enters his voice: emphasis upon value.” E.M. Forster

“I found that making Rayber pure evil made him a caricature and took away from the role of the old prophet since it left him nothing worth trying to save.” Flannery O’Connor

“I talk about Thomas in this story. What I’ve got to do is get Thomas to reveal himself more. A story has to have muscle as well as meaning, and the meaning has to be in the muscle.” Flannery O’Connor

“Start simply with a character or anything that you can make come alive. When you have a character he will create his own situation and his situation will suggest some kind of resolution as you get into it.” Flannery O’Connor

“The failure of the novel seems to be that he is not believable enough as a human being to make his blinding himself believable for the reasons that he did it. For the things that I want them to do, my characters apparently will have to seem twice as human.” Flannery O’Connor [my italics—UW]

“The serious writer has always taken the flaw in human nature for his starting point, usually the flaw in an otherwise admirable character.” Flannery O’Connor

“Rayber has been the difficulty all along. I’ll never manage to get him as alive as Tarwater and the old man but I can certainly improve on him.” Flannery O’Connor

“Any character in a serious novel is supposed to carry a burden of meaning larger than himself.” Flannery O’Connor

“In most good stories it is the character’s personality that creates the action of the story.” Flannery O’Connor

“If you start with a real personality, a real character, then something is bound to happen; and you don’t have to know what before you begin. In fact, it may be better if you don’t know what before you begin. You ought to be able to discover something from your stories. If you don’t, probably nobody else will.” Flannery O’Connor

“The man in the violent situation [on the verge of eternity] reveals those qualities least dispensable in his personality, those qualities which are all he will have to take into eternity with him.” Flannery O’Connor

“If possible we should have some indication as to why or what in his past life has made this boy such a monster. It would heighten his credibility. In fiction everything that has an explanation has to have it and the residue is Mystery with a capital M.” Flannery O’Connor

“The best-drawn character in anyone’s writing is the author himself. None [of the above passages] deals with philosophy directly, yet the author’s philosophy is present—in what he chooses to say and in how he says it. In this sense, a fiction writer cannot hide himself. He stands naked spiritually.” Ayn Rand

“One reason we read fiction is our hope that we will be moved by it, finding characters we can enjoy and sympathize with.” John Gardner

“When characters act out of character, readers notice. They may blink the mistake and accept what the writer claims to have happened, but readers do know. If they read on, they do so for lack of something better to read.” John Gardner

“Discursive thought is not fiction’s most efficient tool; the interaction of characters is everything.” John Gardner

“So far as he [the writer] is concerned, a living deformed character is acceptable and a dead whole one is not.” Flannery O’Connor.

“The story does not work because I don’t know, don’t sympathize, don’t like Mr. Sheppard in the way that I know and like most of my other characters. This is a story, not a statement. I think you ought to look for simpler explanations of why things don’t work and not mess around with philosophical ideas where they haven’t been intended or don’t apply. . . . Don’t mix up thought-knowledge with felt-knowledge. . . . I don’t want to go on to higher mathematics, but to people I do know.” Flannery O’Connor

“An idiom characterizes a society, and when you ignore the idiom, you are very likely ignoring the whole social fabric that could make a meaningful character. You can’t cut characters off from their society and say much about them as individuals. You can’t say anything meaningful about the mystery of a personality unless you put that personality in a believable and significant social context. And the best way to do this is through the character’s own language.” Flannery O’Connor

“And then to return him, like a philosopher liberated from the cave, to the clear and brilliant world of concept, to the realm of order, proportion, and dazzling construction. . . to fiction, where characters unlike ourselves, freed from existence, can shine like essence, and purely Be.” William Gass

“Making the reader like or dislike the character is generally half the battle.” Barnaby Conrad

“Its one of those things: you read it a hundred times and it registers as yes, of course that’s true, and then you finally really see it and it makes sense all through you: You must make your characters likeable or hateable, livable, empathizeable by your reader; they have to have traits and personalities that the reader either really likes or really hates, or he will not care about what happens to them.” Ulf Wolf

“What is most deeply wrong with [the story idea] is that it starts in the wrong place, not with character but with situation. Character is the very life of fiction. Setting exists so that the character has someplace to stand, something that can help define him, something he can pick up and throw, if necessary, or eat, or give to his girlfriend. Plot exists so that the character can discover for himself (and in the process reveal to the reader) what he, the character, is really like: plot forces the character to choice and action, transforms him from a static construct to a lifelike human being making choices and paying for them or reaping the rewards. And theme exists only to make the character stand up and be somebody: theme is elevated critical language for what the character’s main problem is.” John Gardner

“A Republican reader should not be personally offended by some character’s unfair attack on Eisenhower. We allow characters to be themselves; we delight in their foolishness; but if the reader knows in his bones that the attack is [the writer’s] own, that [the writer] cares more about his political opinion than he does about maintaining the artistic illusion of a coherent, self-sustained fictional world, then the reader has good reason for throwing out the book.”  John Gardner

“Work them until they breathe, or as Faulkner said, until ‘they suddenly stand up and cast a shadow.’” Ulf Wolf

“I have a warm feeling for all of my characters, even the bad guys, and when I finish a book I often find myself thinking about them, wondering what they’re doing, maybe sitting around like mannequins waiting for me.” Elmore Leonard

“Inevitability does not depend, of course, on realism. Some or all of the characters may be fabulous—dragons, griffins, Achilles’ talking horses—but once a character is established for a creature, the creature must act in accord with it.” John Gardner

“A profound theme is of trifling importance if the characters knocked about by it are uninteresting, and brilliant technique is a nuisance if it pointlessly prevents us from seeing the characters and what they do.” John Gardner

“How can a writer—and after him the reader—have this sure knowledge of some personality that literally does not exist? Every slightest change the writer makes in the character’s background and experience must have subtle repercussions. Subtle details change characters’ lives in ways too complex for the conscious mind to grasp, though we nevertheless grasp them. Thus plot not only changes but creates character: By our actions we discover what we really believe and, simultaneously, reveal ourselves to others.” John Gardner

“Character is created partly by an assembly of facts, including actions, partly by symbolic association.” John Gardner

“Let’s have contrast in characters. I don’t want a whole bunch of near-saints or a bunch of unrelievedly evil sinners either. People are a blend of good traits and bad. Mix them up and you get a real person, a human being.” Joan Oppenheimer

“On the outside, so alike. Two arms, two legs, ten fingers, ten toes, two eyes, each a tongue, lips and on and on. This difference lies only in color, placement and proportion—and once inside the body, the differences are even less: heart, liver, spleen, hard to tell one from the other. True difference lies in who occupies this body, this shell, this machine. That’s who makes one set of eyes sparkle where another set is dull. Why one voice speaks beauty and another pain. The quiver of emotion. The spirit, the true source of personality. This is who we need to capture in words.” Ulf Wolf

“Make your characters extraordinary. The reader knows plenty enough ordinary people.” Ulf Wolf

“[We] must know, by firm proof of dramatized scenes, why he feels superior to those around him.” John Gardner

“A character is not a simulation of a living being. It is an imaginary being. An experimental self.” Milan Kundera

“The novelist, unlike many of his colleagues, makes up a number of word-masses roughly describing himself . . . gives them names and sex, assigns them plausible gestures, and causes them to speak by the use of inverted commas, and perhaps to behave consistently. These word-masses are his characters. They do not come thus coldly to his mind, they may be created in delirious excitement; still, their nature is conditioned by what he guesses about other people, and about himself, and is further modified by the other aspects of his work.” E.M. Forster

“Alain examines in turn the various forms of aesthetic activity, and coming in time to the novel (le roman) he asserts that each human being has two sides, appropriate to history and fiction. All that is observable in man—that is to say his actions and such of his spiritual existence as can be deduced from his actions—falls into the domain of history. But his romanceful or romantic side (sa partie romanesque ou romantique) includes ‘the pure passions, that is to say the dreams, joys, sorrows and self-communings which politeness or shame prevent him from mentioning’; and to express this side of human nature is one of the chief functions of the novel.” E.M. Forster

“What is fictitious in the novel is not so much the story as the method by which thought develops into action, a method which never occurs in daily life. . . . History, with its emphasis on fatality, whereas there is no fatality in the novel; there, everything is founded on human nature, and the dominating feeling is of an existence where everything is intentional, even passions and crimes, even misery”. Alain

“Here we must conclude our comparison of those two allied species, homo sapiens and homo fictus. Homo fictus is more elusive than his cousin. He is created in the minds of hundreds of different novelists, who have conflicting methods of gestation, so one must not generalize. Still, one can say a little about him. He is generally born off [stage], he is capable of dying on [stage], he wants little food or sleep, he is tirelessly occupied with human relationships. And—most important—we can know more about him than we can know about any of our fellow creatures, because his creator and narrator are one.” E.M. Forster

“We may divide characters into flat and round. Flat characters were called ‘humorous’ in the seventeenth century, and are sometimes called types, and sometimes caricatures. In their purest form, they are constructed round a single idea or quality: when there is more than one factor in them, we get the beginning of the curve towards the round.” E.M. Forster

“It is a convenience for an author when he can strike with his full force at once, and flat characters are very useful to him, since they never need reintroducing, never run away, have not to be watched for development, and provide their own atmosphere—little luminous disks of a pre-arranged size, pushed hither and thither like counters across the void or between the stars.” E.M. Forster

“A novel that is at all complex often requires flat people as well as round, and the outcome of their collisions parallels life . . . accurately.” E.M. Forster

“It is only round people who are fit to perform tragically for any length of time and can move us to any feeling except humour and appropriateness.” E.M. Forster

“The test of a round character is whether it is capable of surprising in a convincing way. If it never surprises, it is flat. If it does not convince, it is flat pretending to be round.” E.M. Forster

“The beauty who does not look surprised, who accepts her position as her due—she reminds us too much of a prima dona.” E.M. Forster

“Incident springs out of character, and having occurred it alters that character.” E.M. Forster

“I think the change of scene is what’s so exhausting: the catching of people plumb in the middle.” Virginia Woolf

“Nothing is simpler than to create for oneself the idea of a human being, a figure and a character, from a series of glimpses and anecdotes.” Percy Lubbock

“Daylight seems to well out of his [Tolstoy’s] page and to surround his characters as fast as he sketches them.” Percy Lubbock

“And it is not enough to say that if Tolstoy’s people have evident lives of their own, beyond the limits of the book, it is because he understands and knows them so well, because they are so ‘real’ to him, because they and all their circumstances are so sharply present to his imagination.” Percy Lubbock

“Controlled only by Tolstoy’s perfect consistency in the treatment of his characters. They, as I have said, are never less than absolutely true to themselves.” Percy Lubbock

“It is impossible to measure her passion and her resolution, because she herself is still incompletely rendered. . . . Anna [Karenina] is made to act as a deeply stirred and agitated woman before she has the value for such emotions. She has not yet become a presence familiar enough, and there is no means of gauging the force of the storm that is seen to shake her. . . . Suppose that Balzac had had to deal with the life of Anna. He would certainly have been in no hurry to plunge into the action, he would have felt that there was much to treat before the scene was ready to open. . . . To the very end Anna is a wonderful woman whose early history has never been fully explained.” Percy Lubbock

“He [Tolstoy] did not see how much more was needed than a simple personal impression of her, in view of all that is to come. Not she only, but her world, the world as she sees it, her past as it affects her—this too is demanded, and for this he makes no provision. It is never really shown how she was placed in her life, and what it meant to her; and her flare of passion has consequently no importance, no fateful bigness. There is not enough of her, as yet, for such a crisis.” Percy Lubbock

“For a time they’re just wooden tailor’s dummies with clothes on, and suddenly they start up on their own. You get it most of all when you’re writing dialogue, and they suddenly won’t take the dialogue you’re giving them. It’s very strange. They are almost present, and they’re saying, ‘I’m sorry, I don’t say lines like this.’ And you get this bizarre experience when you feel they know the line they ought to be saying, and you’re searching around in the dark to find it. . . . But of course in reality the writer has the final say. And on the final draft you have to let the characters know it.” John Fowles

“The trouble is, if you get too deep into a character you’re often working against the laws of fiction. . . . A novel takes two or three years to write, and you tend to forget that a reader goes through it in four hours. It’s going to be a transient experience, however well you write. Your audience isn’t going to pick everything up. . . . This is a major technical problem for me, the selective reduction of things like . . . the analysis of character. I constantly find that I’ve really gone too deeply for the sake of the artistic whole.” John Fowles

“Obviously the people you’ve lived with, and of course, above all, yourself, are the principal sources.” John Fowles

“It’s very mysterious the trouble you have with names—when perfectly plausible names for some mysterious reason sound slightly wrong. That’s always been a mystery to me. Some complicated little computer in one’s unconscious will reject what seem perfectly good names on all other grounds, and then it will suddenly click and you find you’ve got the right one.” John Fowles

“The old man, of whom we know how he has become what he is, is more of an individual than the young man; for it is only during the course of an eventful life that men are differentiated into full individuality.” Erich Auerbach

“Abraham, Jacob, or even Moses produces a more concrete, direct, and historical impression than the figures of the Homeric world—not because they are better described in terms of sense (the contrary is the case) but because the confused, contradictory multiplicity of events, the psychological and factual cross-purposes, which true history reveals, have not disappeared in the representation but still remain clearly perceptible.” Erich Auerbach

“Old Grandet (in Eugénie Grandet) or Fedor Pavlovich Karamazov are not mere caricatures, as Trimalchio is, but terrible realities which must be taken wholly seriously.” Erich Auerbach

“By the very fact of existing they [characters] aspire to some goal, whether it be love or glory, wealth or pleasure. If we writers have a philosopher inside us, our characters follow what we consider a straight path; if we haven’t, they proceed at random, unduly influenced by the events we put in their way. If we endow them with our own ideas, they often shock those of other people. If we don’t but merely subject them to fate, they don’t always seem logical or natural. Should we put little or much or ourselves into them, or only that which society puts into each of us? For my part I follow my own bent and put myself in my people’s shoes.” George Sand

“Don’t put your personality on stage. I believe great art is scientific and impersonal. What you have to do is to transport yourself, by an intellectual effort, into your Characters—not attract them to yourself.” Gustave Flaubert

“The reader reads fiction more for its people than for any other element, whether plot, setting, or shock value. Readers associate characters in fiction with their own lives and with their own experience. They will even name their children after fictional characters. . . . The novel is the people that are in it.” William Sloane

“One of the primary rules about characters in fiction is that all of them must contribute to the narrative motion.” William Sloane

“Characters grow like people. They change for all the human reasons—hate, fear, age, health—anything. The same soldier thinks one way about battle before he is in love, and another, different way after he has fallen in love. A woman loves a man differently before she has children.” William Sloane

“This business of building character is in some ways the toughest part of long fiction writing, and it is one of the points where, it seems to me, a good novel differs most markedly from a good short story. In a novel, growth and change in a character are part of the forward narrative motion of the book.” William Sloane

“A character is never a whole person, but just those parts of him that fit the story or the piece of writing. So the act of selection is the writer’s first step in delineating character. From what does he select? From a whole mass of what Bernard DeVoto used to call, somewhat clinically, ‘placental material.’ He must know an enormous amount more about each of this characters than he will ever use directly—childhood, family background, religion, schooling, health, wealth, sexuality, reading, tastes, hobbies—an endless questionnaire for the writer to fill out.” William Sloane

“For example, the writer knows that people speak, and therefore his characters will describe themselves indirectly when they talk. Clothing is a means of characterization. In short, each character has a style of his own in everything he does. These need not all be listed, but the writer should have a sure grasp of them. If he has, his characters will, within the book, read like people.” William Sloane

“If you know everything about your characters, then you will always succeed in visualizing them for the reader in one way or another, even if you never resort to a descriptive sentence.” William Sloane

“From this catalogue of personal and social facts about his characters, the writer selects those elements that build the novel and make it inevitable: cowardice or courage, passion, miserliness, sense of inferiority, or whatever, and he leaves out all the material that is not relevant to the structure and content of his fiction.” William Sloane

“If the richness is there, it will show in everything the character does and says and thinks, implicitly.” William Sloane

“Characterization is close to the core of the reader’s illusion. In drama the writer creates a character who is interpreted by the actor. The role is the generalization of the specific character. Hence the many Hamlets or Lears or Juliets. The possibility exists that the fiction writer also writes roles and the reader supplies the actors. The character that is rendered too meticulously often fails to convince. Too little is left for the reader to contribute out of himself.” William Sloane

“General physical descriptions are usually enough; the reader will supply his own visual image and because it is his own it will be a reality for him.” William Sloane

“Each character is a piece of the writer and the writer’s experience of other human beings, and also a piece of the reader and the reader’s parallel experience.” William Sloane

“When I first started writing the Cop Story, I knew only one thing about policemen: They were inhuman beasts. The problem was how to turn them into likable, sympathetic human beings. The answer was simple. Give them head colds. And first names.” Ed McBain

“The people, the characters in a novel, must carry with them into the book their own kind of inevitability. We are conscious when we meet the people involved in a story that they have something within them which will probably take them towards some inevitable fate or end. If that inevitability breaks down—if the characters are compelled by the author to do what we instinctively know they would not do—then we feel that there is a flaw in the reality of the novel.” Elizabeth Bowen

“One thing we may be certain of—people are the novel’s concern.” Elizabeth Bowen

“I can’t remember many cases where I felt I had to describe what the people in a story of mine looked like—I’d rather let the reader supply the faces, the builds, and the clothing as well. If I tell you that Carrie White is a high school outcast with a bad complexion and a fashion-victim wardrobe, I think you can do the rest, can’t you?” Stephen King

“I don’t need to give you a pimple-by-pimple, skirt-by-skirt rundown. We all remember one or more high school losers, after all; if I describe mine, it freezes out yours, and I lose a little bit of the bond of understanding I want to forge between us.” Stephen King

“The job boils down to two things: paying attention to how the real people around you behave and then telling the truth about what you see.” Stephen King

“For me, what happens to characters as a story progresses depends solely on what I discover about them as I go along—how they grow, in other words.” Stephen King

“I think you will find that, if you continue to write fiction, every character you create is partly you.” Stephen King

“It’s also important to remember that no one is ‘the bad guy’ or ‘the best friend’ or ‘the whore with a heart of gold’ in real life; in real life we each of us regard ourselves as the main character, the protagonist, the big cheese; the camera is on us, baby. If you can bring this attitude into your fiction, you may not find it easier to create brilliant characters, but it will be harder for you to create the sort of one-dimensional dopes that populate so much pop fiction.” Stephen King

“Who is the most important figure in the story? Who is the protagonist? It’s a general rule of thumb that any first-person narrator will also be, inevitably, the main character. Even when positioned as a by stander or witness to the principal action, the first-person narrator tends to become the most important figure in the story simply because he or she is the medium for everything that we are told.” Madison Smartt Bell

“As for character, there are four things to aim at: (i) First and foremost, goodness. As was said earlier, speech or action will possess character if it discloses the nature of a deliberate choice; the character is good if the choice is good. . . . (ii) Secondly, appropriateness: it is possible for the character to be courageous, but for this to be an inappropriate way for a woman to display courage or cleverness. (iii) Thirdly, likeness [like us—Malcolm Heath]: this is not the same thing as making character good and appropriate, as has already been stated. (iv) Fourthly, consistency: even if the subject of the imitation is inconsistent, and that is the kind of character that is presupposed, it should nevertheless be consistently inconsistent.” Aristotle

“In characterization, just as much as in the structure of events, one ought always to look for what is necessary or probable: it should be necessary or probable that this kind of person says or does this kind of thing, and it should be necessary or probable that this happens after that.” Aristotle

“Since tragedy is an imitation of people better than we are, one should imitate good portrait-painters. In rendering the individual form, they paint people as they are, but make them better looking. In the same way  the poet who is imitating people who are irascible or lazy or who have other traits of character of that sort should portray them as having these characteristics, but also as decent people.” Aristotle

“Homer deserves praise for many reasons, but above all because he alone among poets is not ignorant of what he should do in his own person. The poet in person should say as little as possible; that is not what makes him an imitator. Other poets perform in person throughout, and imitate little and seldom; but after a brief preamble Homer introduces a man or a woman or some other character—and none of them are characterless: they have character.” Aristotle

“I have such a man, such a woman, in such surroundings. What can happen to them to oblige them to go to their limit? That’s the question. It will be sometimes a very simple incident, anything which will change their lives.” Georges Simenon

“In order to create one character, you would theoretically have to create the universe.” Salman Rushdie

“We should approach fictional characters with the same concerns with which we approach people. We need to be alert for how we are to take them, for what we are to make of them, and we need to see how they may reflect our own experience. We need to observe their actions, to listen to what they say and how they say it, to notice how they relate to other characters and how other characters respond to them, especially to what they say about each other. To make inferences about characters, we look for connections, for links and clues to their function and significance in the story. In analyzing a character or character¹s relationships, we relate one act, one speech, one physical detail to another until we understand the character.” Robert DiYanni

“Novelists may wish to indulge the worst kind of totalitarian whims directed against the freedom of their characters. But often as not, they scheme in vain, for characters always manage to evade one’s all-seeing eye long enough to think thoughts and utter dialogue one could never have come up with if plot were all there were.” Thomas Pynchon”

“The belief in free will is necessary to most good fiction. Without it, characters must be made to drift indifferently from one prospect to another. Human decisions will seem either not to matter or to be unconvincingly portrayed. It is not essential that the novelist himself fully believe in free will, only that he conduct the business of his novel as if he had not altogether decided against it.” Robert Boyers

“To subscribe to free will in a novel is to determine that characters will e permitted to develop in accordance with their natures.” Robert Boyers

“The character ceases to matter to us as he should to the degree that his creator seems not to take him seriously.” Robert Boyers

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