Something that might not seem important at first is the name of the character. Not every character must have a name; it is not even essential that the main character has one but there should be a way to identify them. Today it is usual to find stories in which a character is defined just by his activity – the newsman, the lady, the man – or by a nickname used by the author or the other characters. It is even possible that a character has a given name but the writer decides to name him by one of his features.
It is an act of communication and as such it takes part of the communication process. For the former it implies decoding (act of looking at the language code to interpret a message). In order to decode messages in literature we must go through several stages:
- Linguistic stage: it is located in the denotative plane because if we do not know the meaning of words we will not be able to understand the message.
- Volitional stage: this is the impulse level, driven by will: “I like it”, “I do not like it”, “I read it or I stop reading it”.
- Reader level stage: it is located in the connotative, subjective and experiential plane of the person according to his social and cultural context.
- Author stage: purely objective; what he wants to tell us in an analytic or synthetic way.
Characterization has several degrees of deepness, regardless of the complexity of the story. If a story is based on psychological elements, the characters must be deep; if the actions performed by the characters are more important, however, the author might choose to put the psychological deepening aside during the characterization. In a novel, the author applies his knowledge of the characters’ reactions based on their relevance to the general development of the story. These reactions must be, every time, directly related to the stimulus that originates them. If a reaction seems illogical before a given situation, the writer usually explains his reasons by intertwining subsequent facts and behaviors.
A literary movement is the group of characteristics in both rhetoric and subjects that are of common concordance with the social conditions of a given period. A literary movement can prevail through several periods or less than one.
This way, the most important literary movements and periods are the Ancient Times with the Eastern cultures; the Classic Period with Greece and Rome and the Middle Ages with feudalism. The rest derive from these.
Greek Period: One of the cultures with the most influence in the current world is, without a doubt, the Greek culture which developed from 900 to 300 B.C. After its decline – a strictly material one – its spiritual and artistic aspects have remained and spread through the years to every knowledge field.
The Greek excelled in every scientific and literary discipline. In literature they stood out in almost every genre excepting novel. It is worth highlighting, among all this literary quality, the work done for theatre, especially in tragedy.
The Greek, besides what we have already mentioned regarding literature, were the founding fathers of math, physics, politics, and philosophy among other sciences. There is no other culture that transcended as much as the Greek. In the sixth century B.C. the cities of Athens, Thebes, Sparta and Korinthos flourished. Each of them was autonomous and powerful.
- Search for beauty and perfection.
- Harmony and balance.
- Harmonic proportion, rhythm and elegance.
- Relevance of myths.
- Balance between form and substance.
Here are a few things that you should remember when writing a story:
- Sometimes the writer allows himself to take part in the story. Everything can be literary, including the writer. In Fog (Niebla) by Spanish author Miguel de Unamuno, a man with a completely gray personality has spent most of his life attached to his mother. After her death, having become a grown man, he falls in love with a young woman who is his maid. The young woman does not feel the same about him and goes away with a boy from the neighborhood; the main character decides to commit suicide. He remembers reading an essay about suicide, written by a college professor, and making a promise to visit the professor if suicidal thoughts were to appear at any time. When the character does visit the professor he turns out to be Miguel de Unamuno himself, who reveals he is writing a novel and has decided to kill the main character because he is no longer relevant to the story. Thus the idea of suicide, because he is a character that must die to let the story take its course. The main character challenges Unamuno telling him he is no God and cannot decide upon his life. He goes back home after deciding not to commit suicide. That same night, he dies of indigestion.
- Let us remember that the author and the story teller are two separate beings: the author is the real person that creates the story; the story teller is who either way- in first or third person – is in charge of telling the story. It is possible that the story teller is omniscient and a character within the story at the same time; there have been interesting results using this formula. The characters challenge the story teller or cause him to reveal certain parts of the story that were hidden from the reader. As told before, the writer can make virtually anything happen in his story but the devices he uses are as effective as the experience taken from the creative process and learning from other authors.
- Some authors use given names to provide the reader an idea of the role the character will play in the story. In Rayuela, by Julio Cortázar, the main feminine character is named Lucía but the author calls her la Maga. The rest of the characters call her the same but in their everyday dialogues some of them call her by her given name. It is noticed how the author can build the story as part of reality so he might be closer or not to some characters and react to them the same way they react to him. The character which Cortázar calls la Maga actually has some features that we might think as magical, there is a certain mystery around her; when the reader finds this character, he already has an idea of what might come later. Other formulas are more straightforward: Kafka, obsessed by the subject of the relationship of men with power, names his characters just the guardian or the judge. With Kafka there are peculiar situations: a recurring character in his writing is called just K -the first letter of the author’s last name-; in a certain story, Kafka named his characters with mathematical variables: A and B.
- Many writers use very simple names for their characters at first: Juan, José, Pedro. Others, spoiled by soap operas, give them “Casanova” names: Víctor Jesús, Luis Rafael, Juan Augusto. Even when we have said that this field can be completely theoretical, it is necessary for a character’s name to add credibility to the story. Nothing forbids for a character to be named John Smith, but it is likely that such a name will not cause a positive impression in the reader. Many authors solve this problem by using common but unlikely names: the main masculine character in Rayuela is Horacio Oliveira; some characters in A Hundred Years of Solitude (Cien Años de Soledad) are José Arcadio, Aureliano, Úrsula. Maybe García Márquez could have used José Sinforoso instead of José Arcadio to name his mythological heroes but it is true that the chosen names are more resounding and this certainly helps the reader to think of these characters as real beings.
In a complex story in which characters are mostly human, it is advisable for the author to apply some psychology, even when not being an expert. People’s characters are defined by psychology but the knowledge of these characters is not exclusive of those who professionally practice this science. In fact, psychological studies are based on the basic knowledge of a person and go deeper into it with the use of what science knows about personality.
The writer is responsible for clearly differentiating between stories in which characters must be sprinkled with certain psychological characteristics from those which do not need them in order to be developed. This difference is generally made based on the relevance of a certain character in the story and the length of the text. When writing short stories, psychological deepness is almost unnecessary; what becomes more important is the development of the story itself in order to exemplify a given fact. With novels, it is essential that characters are correctly defined from a psychological standpoint. The intrinsic length of novels makes it necessary for the author to deepen in all the elements, given that there is enough time and space to do so. Besides, the complexity of actions within a novel cannot be performed in most cases by simple beings only defined by a name.
- Even though there is no such thing as a general theory of character construction, it is noted that most of the time the first element the author takes into consideration in order to create a character is the action that the he will develop in the story and the relevance he will have in it. The relationship between the main character and the rest of the characters in the story will develop later. In both of these moments some psychological features of the character appear and disappear, the same way the sculptor carves a stone. During this process a character is given a name and it is defined if he will be more or less relevant in the story.
A character is basically somebody capable of performing actions within a story. Although this could be considered a concise enough definition for what a character is, we will break it down into two elements, in order to fully understand it: a character is a being and this being is capable of performing actions within a story.
When talking about the character as a being, we will try and set aside the notion that characters must always be human. Throughout history, literature has been full of characters embodied by beings from the animal, vegetable and mineral kingdoms as well as objects and even ideas. In the original text for Italian writer Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio, the main character is a wooden doll and there are other characters embodied by animals or human beings. In Mexican author Juan Rulfo’s Pedro Páramo, most characters are dead people, which call for a peculiar perspective of the concept of a character. In The Time When Monday was Sunday by Venezuelan author Francisco Massiani the main characters are the days of the week.
- There are no limits for the characters’ nature within a story. What turns a being into a character is the possibility, granted by the author, of performing a given action. However it is necessary to understand that this action must be performed consciously by the character. In a story, a self-opening door is not a character until the author adds elements that indicate that the door has opened by its own will and with a specific objective. For instance, if the door opens because it knows it must open and does it under specific circumstances, it turns into a character and takes a role within the story. This writing device, which is basically achieved by assigning human characteristics to a being that by nature does not have them, is called humanization.
- By assigning them human characteristics, the writer provides the characters with a new possibility: to possess their own psyche. Through life experience, the author learns that people can be grouped in different typologies. The author identifies classic human characteristics: those of the introverted, the rich, the hard working, the drunk, the feminist, the proud, the weak… The greater the writer’s experience, both in life and literature, the better the character development will be, as long as he successfully pours into the characters, the human characteristics witnessed in other people.