Friday, December 3, 2010

Craft Book of the Month: The First Five Pages

Late again! If blogging were a race, I'd be the poor helpless runner being lapped by the Ethiopians. I do, however, have two very good excuses. The first is that my mother arrived on Wednesday for a six week visit, and that occasioned a frenzy of cleaning that left time for little else. Second, I spent today with my father-in-law on what has become our annual hunt for the cheapest Christmas tree in North America. Fortunately this year he has a GPS, so we didn't spend too much time circling in the hinterlands. The most amazing part of the story was that we blundered onto a Christmas tree farm where you could just tell from the outset that the prices were going to be high. (You know, the type of place where Santa is sequestered in a back room and jolly elves pass around small cups of hot chocolate.) Indeed, the prices were high, but then the owner said he'd cut a deal. I could have a 6 foot Noble Fir for $10. The only catch: the tree had fallen out of a helicoptor while being tagged to go to Mexico... At that, I just knew I had to have the tree. I mean, how many people can boast that their Christmas tree parachuted to the ground on its way to a Mexican vacation? (And the tree is actually in great shape!) But I digress.

Noah Lukeman's chapter on Characterization is ace. In a mere fourteen pages he lists all the ills that can befall a writer's characters. I'll summarize them, and then urge you to buy/borrow the book for yourself so you can ponder it at your leisure.

Noah Lukeman's characterization sins:

  1. The use of stock, cliche, or overly exotic names.
  2. Launching into a story without stopping to establish any of the characters.
  3. The presence of stock characters or character traits (the Russian spy, the mad scientist etc.)
  4. The introduction of too many characters at once.
  5. Confusion over who the protagonist is.
  6. The presence of extraneous characters.
  7. Generic character description. ("We're all tired of being introduced to the man in his forties, of medium height and weight, with brown hair and brown eyes.")
  8. Characters we don't care about.
  9. The unsympathetic protagonist.
Lukeman ends the chapter with his customary end-of-chapter exercises and writes:
Characterization is a long, arduous and ever-developing process. Don't be discouraged. The longer you consciously work at it, the better you'll become.
He recommends that you
Reread great works of literature, carefully observing how various writers handle characterization and character description.
And that's it from me this week. I'm off to stare at my $10 Survivor of a Christmas Tree.
Happy writing to you all.


  1. Have a wonderful weekend, my friend!


  2. Definitely the tree to have!!

    I like the look of that book - I must go investigate. Thanks for the recommendation.


  3. Oh must write a flash fiction about that would rather risk injury than go to mexico...oh that's not PC
    oh well...
    Loved the telling of your trip and the cleaning of the house..hee hee..mothers look don't they..or at least notice Have a wonderful Christmas with them here
    ANd yes, it is that wonderful snow at our place this morning..and thelittle ones know....they are so excited..last year when they came they went sledding
    and as far as characterizations....hate it
    but you are right you just have to know who your people are and how they think and react
    Me..I'm usually guilty of the second on the list did I go on and on
    But my son is coming in today too!!!


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