Several years ago at a writer’s workshop, poet and novelist Victoria Riddel told our group how she creates a character; “I think of someone like myself then ask, ‘what if he or she were less stable than I am?’”
When thinking of character and characterization we often think of backstory, physical description, as well as the sort of unspoken “vibe” a person gives off. Perhaps all too often we ignore something more fundamental. What makes a character stand out beyond their own narratives and into our collective consciousness, from Cyrano de Bergerac to Bugs Bunny, are not just the individual details of who they are but also how those same details influence and shape what they do. No matter how different, awkward, weird, magical or sensational, all characters accomplish the same thing; they carry a story.
When we talk about fictional characters, most of us think of those who are larger than life, the ones who carried us from our childhood storybooks of Snow White and Pinocchio to Huck Finn and Holden Caulfield. What do they have in common? A good character first and foremost must be believable and interesting. We must care about them and their conflict or motivation; otherwise, why turn the page?
The two essays included in this issue of Mason’s Road show how character instability can add rather than detract from the overall story, thus making the characters and their conflicts much more interesting.
- “Our Secret Selves: Characterization in Amy and Isabelle” focuses on a thoughtful exploration of how unresolved “contradictions and deep dark secrets can be the building blocks of successful character development.”
- “The Many Faces of Sybil” reminds the reader how fragile the human psyche can be. “It is a tale of sixteen people, whose individual and collective stories hold the key to Sybil’s wholeness and survival.”
We hope you enjoy these essays as much as we did.
Tina DeMarco and Reuben Hayslett
Craft Essay Co-Editors