PART 8 LITERARY CRITICISM: CRITICIZING TECHNIQUE IN FICTION --- EFFECTIVE CHARACTERIZATION
The believability of the story depends a lot on the type of characters used by the artist and how he characterizes them (or how he shapes them up so they would “appear” capable of doing what they are made to do in the story).
TYPES: The story writer may use any of the following types of characterization:
1. Descriptive Characterization
a. Round. When the character received full characterization on all levels (physical and psychological) and in all manners (direct – physical description through the author’s exposition, mental limning, dialogue and accompanying description of manner of speech, and physical description of character made by other characters in the story; indirect – through testimony of other personae on the personal idiosyncrasies of the character, through the author’s exposition on the significance of the character’s actions, through the character’s actions and reactions to certain given conditions in the plot). Main characters --- protagonist and antagonist --- should receive this type of characterization. The rounder they are, the more developed they would appear, hence, would be more believable.
b. Flat. When one of the outstanding aspects of the character is emphasized --- for instance, his physical assets --- he is said to be a “flat” character. While this may sometimes be considered a weak point in characterization, especially when the character involved is a major persona, it may also be deliberately used to portray some narrow-minded character, or some such uneventful character.
2. Characterization through Action
a. Developing Character. When the character evolves or changes in the process of unfolding the plot because he is affected by the events, he is said to be “developing.” This means, he does not remain the same throughout the story, but that he is transformed by the course of events because they were deliberately introduced to change him. Major characters in the story are normally developing characters.
b. Static Character. As the label implies, this type of character remains unchanged throughout the story. Minor characters are usually this type so they would not overshadow the major character who is, after all, responsible for carrying out the main action of the story; i.e., he figures in the main conflict, changes it, or is changed by it. In the case of the major characters, static characterization is often considered a fault unless this is called for by the subject matter or role played by the character.
a. Protagonist. In layman’s language, he is the “hero” of the story. However, this does not mean that he has the classical traits of the hero. He is simply the major character who must be the main actor of the main line of conflict, and he is the persona around which most of the actions revolve. As a main character, he is said to be an effective protagonist if he is responsible for the advancement of the action towards its logical conclusion in the climax.
b. Antagonist. He opposes the actuations of the protagonist. He provides the obstruction to the protagonist’s plans or line of action so that conflict may arise. The conflict is not dramatic --- and often uninteresting --- if the antagonist does not provide an opposing force. The antagonistic force may be other than human beings; calamities, fortuitous circumstances beyond the characters control (not Deus ex Machina, or fate); they may also be the protagonist’s psychological condition so that he goes against himself as in cases where the ego and the super-ego clash; they may also be spiritual forces like the Gods or belief, or entertainment of deity who interferes with the affairs of men.
c. Minor characters. They may be used to provide:
(a) Foils. Characters that have opposite traits are harnessed so that the author may succeed in contrasting them for the sake of clarity, distinctive characterization, and conflict. One makes the other more distinctive.
(b) Confidant/e. May be used by the author to provide characters on whom some major personae may confide the things in their minds which should otherwise remain unrevealed (in stories which make use of the Objective-Witness point of view, this may be a way through which the mental state of a character could be revealed).
(c) Commentators. They may serve a function similar to that assigned to the Greek Chorus, in that they supply the narration of certain actions that would subtly advance the action or observations which would lead to a more vivid characterization, or they may simply be there to provide authenticity to the locale (as if they were part of the fiction’s furniture).
METHODS OF CHARACTERIZATION
1. Direct. When the author himself undertakes the description through his expositions, the characterization is said to be direct. It could take the form of either physical or psychological description of the character. For example:
a. Physical: “He accosted me with excessive warmth. He had been drinking much. The man wore motley. He had on a tight-fitting party-stripped dress, and his head was surmounted by the conical cap and bells.” (Description of Fortunato in “The Cask of Amontillado”)
b. Psychological: “He had a weak point --- this Fortunato --- although in other regards he was a man to be respected and feared. He prided himself on his connoisseurship of wine. Few Italians have the true virtuoso spirit…in painting and gemmary, Fortunato, like his countryman, was a quack --- but in the matter of old wines, he was sincere.” (From “The Cask of Amontillado”)
2. Indirect. The author may limn the character through the latter’s manner of speech;
“P-p-p-lease, a-a-a-accept m-m-m-my a-a-a-apologies, M-M-M-Madam, b-b-b-but I-I-I wa-wa-wa-was na-na-na-napping… (Without saying he is a stutterer, the fact may be seen from the manner of speech. This could also reveal dread in the one talking.)
Or, in the observation of others about the personality of the character. The character may also be revealed by what he does under certain defined circumstances --- his actions and reactions.
Indirect characterization may also be both physical and psychological, but all the while, it must be done by somebody else other than the omniscient author.
QUALITIES OF FUNCTIONAL CHARACTERIZATION
1. It must draw the character vividly.
2. It must make the character alive and active.
3. It must be unobtrusive. It is not a forced effort on the part of anybody to reveal the likes of a character without any need for it.
4. It must be consistent to the demands of the subject matter. If the subject matter calls for an intelligent but cold-blooded criminal, at no time should characterization show the character as wavering, unsure, or a bumbling clown.
5. It must make the character believable in such a manner that he acts according to the demands of the situation and to his natural disposition as spelled out by hi role in the story.
6. It must contribute to the objectification of the theme.
These are common denominators for all the fiction written in the different stages of literary development (from Classical to Modern and Post-Modern). There may, however, be some peculiar qualities demanded by other Art Periods, Moods, or Traditions; for instance, in the Absurdist Tradition, the characters need not be consistent to the logical bend of their character. By reason of their absurdity, they violate the line of action that they should normally take in realistic fiction. Thus, they may say nonsensical things or act in a ridiculous manner where the word not suit the actions and vice versa. Obviously, in the case of this type of fiction, the rules may not apply. We hasten to say that this does not necessarily make this type of literature inartistic. But this is subject for another discussion.
SUMMARY OF CHARACTERIZATION IN FICTION
Types: Descriptive: Round, Flat. Characterization through Action: Developing, Static. Roles: Protagonist, Antagonist, Minor (Foil, Confidant, Commentator)
Methods: Direct: Physical, Psychological. Indirect: Physical, Psychological (through other characters other than the author)
Qualities: Vivid, Alive, Active, Unobtrusive, Consistent, Believable, and characterization contributes to objectification of the theme or germ of idea being related through the story.
Next: Part 9 Literary Criticism: Criticizing the Scale of the Fiction and Other Techniques
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