Characterization—or So Not
I recently watched a movie that I had been looking forward to seeing. It had a great premise, wonderful scenery, a few twists to the same old romantic comedy format, decent actors, even a couple wonderful ones, it had it all. And it was bad. Really bad. Misfiring on all circuits bad. For one reason: characterization. Or the lack thereof. I quite simply didn’t care what happened to the characters, thus I didn’t care what happened with the story.
Characterization is the absolute key to whether a story, a film, a television show works. Or doesn’t work. It may sound like the easiest part of the story, and it can be, it is so tricky as to be messed up often as not. Characters are the reason we read or watch or engage in a story. Bad characterization is also the reason we often stop reading or watching—even if we’re hardly aware of it.
Without strong, recognizable, varied and complex characterization stories fall flat. Even the most exciting plot loses steam without characters to people it. It is characters in peril that make us keep reading or watching, it is characters showing bravery—or cowardice —that makes us want to know what happens next, it is characters who do the unexpected that keeps us wanting more.
Teachers of English, grammar, and writing, explore this concept with your students. Ask for examples of good and not so good characterization and what it did—or didn’t do—for the story or film. Challenge them to notate what was wrong and how it could be fixed. Then write about it!