Tips on naming a character

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
Read more

When writing short stories, psychological deepness is almost unnecessary

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.

  1. 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.
Read more

Advice on character creation.

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
Read more

TYPES OF LITERARY GENRES

Realism

Literary movement, originated in France, which proposed a new way of exploring reality. It is a movement in response to romanticism and the excess of subjectivism. It is linked to the ideological movement of positivism.

Place of origin: France.

Period: second half of the 19th century.

Characteristics:

  • Precise reproduction of reality.
  • Use of thorough descriptions.
  • Rejects the feeling.
  • Description of the environment, customs, problems and way of life.
  • Language is colloquial because it reproduces the common, every day way of speaking.

Naturalism: This movement was born in France as well, towards the end of the 19th century. It first appeared in novel and then in theatre. It is considered an extension of realism.

Place of origin: France.

Period: End of 19th century.

Characteristics:

  • Attempt to reflect reality but in a totally objective way.
  • Description of laws of nature the way it is done in the science field.
  • Scientific progress, such as discoveries or vaccines, is pictured in the narrative.

Modernism: This is a movement that rejects romanticism and rules and forms that control poetry or narrative as well. Its importance lies in having being the first movement originated in America and not being an imitation of any other movement. On the contrary, this movement influenced Europe; however, it received the influence of French Parnasianism with Rimbaud and French Symbolism with Baudelaire.

Place of origin: Nicaragua and, later, Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Peru.

Period: End of 19th century and beginning of 20th century.

Characteristics:

  • Hopes of renovation: they were not satisfied with what came from Europe, especially from Spain.
  • Influenced by French Parnasianism and Symbolism; from the first movement it takes the exotic and from the second the musicality.
  • Language is not elegant.
  • Subjects are product of the American landscape and environment.
  • Abundance of symbols and images.

Avant-garde movement: The name avant-garde relates to the 1914-1918 conflict. It is a term used in the military: it names the troops that take the vanguard and marches in front of the others; the same in literature, the term designates a movement that tries to be ahead of the rest. There are, however, many different movements with the suffix “ism” such as Dadaism, Futurism, Expressionism, and Surrealism that in general point towards an aesthetical renovation not only in literature but art in general. They seek originality through symbolism and an individual expression with deep subjectivism.

Imbalance and anguish are the main characteristics of the 20th century man; they are reflected in literature and artistic expression during that time. Absolute freedom to express those feelings is desired. Avant-gardism took advantage of Freud’s psychoanalysis discoveries in which a strong contraposition of the subconscious and the conscious worlds exists.

The most relevant avant-garde movement was Surrealism because it emerged as a fighting movement. Its founder was French poet André Bretón who announced through a manifesto published in 1914 the principles of the movement. It is true that the avant-garde movement was born in Europe but it was also spread through America with common features but with some differences at the same time, originated from its historic reality and its social needs. This is how in America the movement appears within the industrial and financial development of the United States and, logically, with influence over the rest of the American countries.

During the first part of the 20th century, the Latin-American countries reached an outstanding economic development caused by agricultural and mining exports as well as from direct foreign investment, especially from the United States.  They became an important source of raw materials for industry in other markets. However, these countries resented the negative impact of the 1929 crisis.

This entire political, economic and social environment would reflect in literature and artistic expression, with variants in European avant-garde; ultimately they were similar.

Place of origin: Europe and then America (the Caribbean). In Germany it was called Expressionism; in France, Cubism; in Italy, Futurism.

Period: between the first and second World Wars, 20th century.

Characteristics:

  • Images full of feelings.
  • Reflects group revolutionary conscience.
  • Subject and sensibility differ from previous movements.
  • Depending on the movement to which they belong, images can be grotesque, far from reality or a reflection of the hidden “I”.
  • Intense quest for the freedom spirit, especially the expression.
  • Rejection of rhetorical formulas.
  • Advocacy for originality.

Contemporary era: It comprises the period between post-war until present day. In poetry it has an aftertaste of French Symbolism even though it shows the human inability to communicate, the anguish, the constant search of “I”, among others. It breaks all the rigid structures as well and moves for absolute freedom in which the most important thing is what the poet wants without being constrained by fixed parameters or patterns.

Among its representatives we have: Pidandello, Kipling, Antonio Machado and Vladimir Mayakovski.

As for contemporary narrative, it breaks linearity and anecdote and moves toward temporal planes, towards flash-back. On the other hand, it is more comprehensive regarding subjects; per instance, psychoanalysis or philosophy are present in a novel.

Contemporary novel is, more than anything, a reflection of life that mixes fantastic, marvelous or essentially fictional elements with the real world. The language that is used is a reflection of the world that aspires to represent as well; it goes hand in hand with slang, idioms, and localisms; it phonetically captures speech.

Read more

Characteristics of a literary text

What makes a text a literary one? It is its characteristics, of course. The characteristics that provide a text with literary character are the following:

  1. Predominance of the poetic function over the referential function because it is not limited to communicating; it is about influencing the reader’s mood making him live emotions and feelings. The author shares his experiences with the reader, recreating them in him.
  2. It is absolutely ambiguous; it is this feature where the multiple interpretation possibilities reside.
  3. It is obviously connotative; it produces many possibilities of interpretation depending on the literary and personal context of the reader. Connotation is the essence of literary language.
  4. Richness of poetic resources such as literary figures. It is plentiful in images.
  5. Syntax is more flexible. The order of the elements may vary.
  6. Vocabulary is precise and irreplaceable. A word cannot be replaced by another one because the expressive power changes even if the idea remains the same.
  7. Words are chosen by their euphony.
  8. It has emotional weight.
  9. Harmonic disposition of its elements, produced by a good combination of words.
  10. The message creates a reality of its own, different from the surrounding reality.
  11. It can be explained and described but not proven.
  12. It is symbolic.

However, all of these characteristics cannot be isolated because a literary text is an invented, imaginary and fictional.

Read more

Renaissance plus more

Renaissance: Its name means to be born again. The invention of the movable type and the geographic advancements gave origin to this literary movement. It is in fact an artistic and literary movement.

Place of origin: Florence, Italy. Later developed in, Spain, France, and Portugal.

Time: during the 15th and 16th centuries.

Characteristics:

  • Return to Greco-Roman culture.
  • It is the awakening of humanity in all of its artistic forms in order to accomplish its goals.
  • An attempt to detach from the religious.

Baroque: Literary movement originated after a conceptual crisis in all artistic manifestations. First of all, this is a spiritual movement that takes different shapes depending on the country where it happens. This way, in Italy it is called Mannerism; in England, Euphysm; Preciousism in France; Silesian movement in Germany; and Conceptism and Gongorism in Spain.

Place of origin: it is born in Italy but ingrains in Spain.

Period: 17th century.

Characteristics:

  • Excessive, colorful use of literary language.
  • Rhetoric, too elaborated.
  • Preferred subjects are death, metaphysics, religion and theology.
  • Presence of contradiction especially through the use of paradox as a medium of expression. Use of contrasts.
  • Breaks harmony.
  • New aesthetical concepts.

Neoclassicism: It is a movement obsessed with form. Its origin is closely related to Louis XVI king of France’s court, who decides to have under his command the spiritual, intellectual and artistic power in the court of Versailles. French language spreads through the word the same way Greek language previously did.

Place of origin: France.

Period: 18th century, called the Age of Enlightenment.

Characteristics:

  • Admiration of ancient Greek models and of the Renaissance works.
  • Attempt to approach rationalism.
  • Rigorous rules for work creation prevailed.
  • Symmetry and rigidity.
  • Strict correction in the art of writing.

 

Romanticism: This movement was born under the French Revolution’s protection and the ideal of freedom. These ideals are not only present in the scientific but also in the artistic sphere; this is how it emerges in literature. It is a return to the medieval past.

Place of origin: Germany and England.

Period: First half of the 19th century.

Characteristics:

  • It tosses away the rigidity of rules.
  • Sense prevails over reason.
  • Admiration of nature and freedom.
  • Presence of a sense of defiance.
  • Exaltation of “I”.
Read more

Roman Period and Middles Ages

Roman Period: Latin literature is considered a branch of Greek literature. Greece had a strong cultural influence on Rome but these two cultures merged into a single one (metaphorically); this heritage was preserved through modern times.

This merger allowed for a better development of the people: on one hand, the poetic creativity of the Greek and on the other the Roman law and management. The Romans built the most impressive empire in history because they were practical and realist. They knew how to take advantage of Greece’s greatness to embody and enhance it with Rome’s.

Roman history begins in 753 B.C. with the very popular story of Romulus and Remus and ends with the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 A.D.

Characteristics:

  • Focus on the grandiose.
  • Imitation of Greek culture.
  • Eminently practical and realist.
  • Elegant style.
  • Outstanding speakers.

 

Middle Ages: It is the 10 century period between the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 A.D. and the fall of Constantinople, capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, in 1453 A.D.

After Charlemagne’s death the feuds were established; these were areas granted to the noble by the king. With the establishment of feudalism three groups were strongly consolidated: the Church, the Aristocracy and the People.

At the beginning of this age, paganism prevailed but little by little the Christian faith overthrew it turning the Church into the most politically powerful group. For this reason culture grew inside the monastic ambit.

In regard to literary production, Germanic literature appears first and then the French and lastly the Spanish. It comprises, then, seven centuries of European literature (VII to XIV). The first displays were verse poems of legendary origin called Eddas as well as prose compositions called Sagas.

During the first part of this period, the Greco-Roman influence is evident in all the activities and the most important transmission medium was language: Latin. Then, the romance languages were born.  Oral literary production is in the hands of popular chanters called minstrels who were wandering singers that went around reciting poems in public squares and palaces; and also the troubadours, who wrote the poems besides singing them.

Characteristics:

  • Oral transmission of literature.
  • Relevant influence of the Church.
  • Development of sacred subjects.
  • Simultaneous use of Latin and romance languages.
  • Love, courage exaltation and loyalty were used as subjects.
  • Popular and anonymous character.
Read more

Dramatic genre

The word drama originates from the Greek word “drao” which means to do or to perform. It comprises all the literary works written for theatrical performance.

The dramatic genre is the one that represents some chapter or conflict in human history through the characters’ dialogue.

The word dramatic comes from “drama”; this word derives from the development of an event within a given space and time. The facts refer to people or characters that symbolize in a concrete and direct way a human conflict.

This genre is thought to be publicly performed in front of an audience thus it comprises every theatrical manifestation, everything written for theatre and everything susceptible to scenic performance before an audience.

Action is a basic characteristic. What happens in the play is not described, told or commented directly by the playwright but seen by the spectator. The play is written but the most important thing in it is what happens (because of this there are wordless plays, mute plays in which gestures are used and attitudes express the conflict).

Dramatic genre subdivision:

  • Tragedy: it refers to a fatal life event that ends in a sad way or with the death of the hero.
  • Comedy: it shows comical or optimistic aspects of life. It has a happy ending.
  • Tragicomedy: a work that is part of both tragic and comic genres.
  • Religious play: representation of biblical passages, religious mysteries or moral and theological conflicts.
  • Interlude: single act, comical theatrical piece with a humorous plot.
  • Paso: brief dramatic piece with simple subject and comical treatment.
  • Monologue: Monodrama – dramatic piece played by a single actor. More extensive dialogue than usual.
  • Farce: Comical piece created to make people laugh. The difference between farce and comedy is that the former does not need to stay true to reality.
  • Vaudeville: Comedy made lighter with songs and dances of evidently frivolous, cheerful and romantic subject.
  • Opera: Theatrical play in which different characters sing through its development.
  • Operetta: Dramatic and musical play in which characters alternatively recite and sing.

 

  • Comic sketch: short humorous play -shorter than a single act- of popular character and plot in which social evils and conventions are ridiculed.
  • Drama: mixes aspects of tragedy and comedy.
Read more