Need Help With Characterization? Look No Further Than Tonight’s Costumes.

Happy Halloween!

I hope you’ll all find some time to dress up in your favorite costume today. And whether you’re out trick or treating or staying home handing out candy, I hope you’ll pay particular attention to the costumes that are out and about.

People often choose costumes based on their favorite characters, right? So make a game of trying to figure out why someone picked that costume. What about that character makes them stand out to someone of that age group? This also applies to villains. What about that villain makes them appealing? What quirks, what powers, and what weapons make them an ideal choice?

Once you figure out the answers to those questions, apply them to storytelling. Do people like Maleficent because of her cool, commanding costume? Is Loki a favorite because of his mischievous nature – or is it because he was played by Tom Hiddleston? What about the little girl dressed as Cinderella? Maybe she just loves the dress. But maybe she also loves that her costume allows her to believe that her dreams can come true with a little luck and some hard work.

Whatever the reasons, they can help you figure out what makes these beloved characters tick and what makes them memorable. And you can borrow these reasons for your own characters.

So while you’re out and about this evening, pay attention to these details to really take your characterization to the next level:

1.) Outfit
One of the easiest ways to make a character stand out is to give them something memorable to wear. (See the Maleficent example above.) Moreover, make sure you have a good reason for them to wear it. Or, play with what readers would expect your character to wear and change it up. Why does your character always stay covered from head to toe, even in the heat? Is it because they have scars they don’t want people to see? Everything they put on needs to say something about them.
2.) Accessories
Everything from the locket that holds the last picture of your character’s parents to the mismatching socks your protagonist threw on in the rush out of the house tell us something about your character. What would Cinderella be without her glass slippers? Also, what they don’t carry with them can also tell the reader something about your character. Do they refuse to carry a sword because they don’t believe in fighting? Do they always forget to grab their house keys?
3.) Weapons
Not only do kids like weapons (for good or bad), but a unique weapon can make a character stand out. What would Darth Maul be without his double-sided Lightsaber? Just another villain.

So whatever character you’re trying to write, make them stand out using key details that will make them feel real to your readers. These small details will go a long way in making your character unique, believable, and relatable.

Are you dressing up tonight? What are you going to be be, and why did you pick it? Share in the comments below!

 

Does your villain suffer from Stupid Villain Syndrome (SVS)?

Everybody loves a good villain, right? So the reverse must also be true: everyone hates a bad villain. Worse, they’ll stop reading if your villain suffers from Stupid Villain Syndrome (SVS).

SVS is when your villain meets one or more of the following criteria:

  • They’re not scary enough for the reading level of the book. They’ll come across as comical and mustache-twirling if they’re not sinister enough.
  • They’re not strong enough to physically pose a true risk to your protagonist’s goals. Readers won’t be invested if they feel no one is truly opposing your protagonist. Nothing will feel at stake for the protagonist.
  • They choose incompetent sidekicks. Ruthless villains want sidekicks who can carry out their orders successfully. While protagonists might be able to get away once or maybe twice, they shouldn’t be continually able to outsmart sidekicks. It makes the villain appear weaker by association.
  • The villain over-explains his or her plan in the end, resulting in giving the protagonist time to escape or think of a plan. While a plot should be twisting and keep readers guessing and some explanation might be necessary to clear up certain earlier plot points, don’t use this method to give your protagonist time to come up with a brilliant plan. Your villain can gloat and revel in the moment, but just not too long.

If your hero needs time to untie the ropes that bind their hands or to get off the railroad tracks like in old cartoons, try instead to perhaps have your hero’s sidekick or another character cause the needed distraction to give the protagonist time to escape. Try to have your villain give as little explanation as possible and give your protagonist the smarts she needs to piece the rest together on her own. Or maybe, split the dialogue so that half the reason why the villain committed the murder is given while the protagonist is danger, and the other half comes when the villain lies dying or realizes they’re trapped. At the very least, have your protagonist escape while the villain is giving their speech to show how foolish they were not to kill them right away.

A good thing to keep in mind to avoid SVS is actually a quote from actor Tom Hiddleston:

“Every villain is a hero in his own mind.”

The villain is often the one that took the path the hero could’ve taken but chose not to. Yet, the villain probably had very legitimate reasons for taking that path. Something drove them to it just as something made the hero pick a different way. We spend enough time with the hero to get their reasoning, so make sure we have enough time with the villain to get their reasoning before the final few scenes when they have to over explain. (However, I will point out that SVS doesn’t apply as fully to mystery and twist endings since it’s not always obvious who the villain is. But, there better be enough breadcrumbs that readers believe the credibility of the villain after the big reveal.)

Overall, your villain deserves, nay, needs to be just as complex as your hero in order to avoid the pitfalls that come with SVS, and avoiding SVS will go a long way in strengthening your villain, which by proxy strengthens your protagonist and probably gives you a stronger, more intriguing plot!