Quality Characterization

I recently saw the play Wicked while on a quick girl’s trip to Vegas. There were all sorts of things that sent my writing brain on fire, from the layout of the theater, to the people attending the play (including the woman who had *significant enhancements* and wanted to share with all in attendance), to the production itself.

But each time I think back over the experience, I find myself marveling at the characterization.

If you have seen the play, you know that it centers around two women – Elphaba and Glinda. They are as opposite as two people could be, but as the play progresses, the audience can’t help but laugh and long with them. The whole first act, Glinda has energy and popularity to burn with significant over-dramatization of ditziness. And Elphaba is quiet and reserved because of her (spoiler alert) green skin that has made her an outcast, but we get to see her in quiet moments depicting incredible compassion.

One of the reasons I like to go to plays is because the characterization has to be spot on. Sure, there are some tricks of the stage, but if the character can’t carry the play, there is no play. Take your favorite play and think of your favorite character. Then ask yourself how many other people, in how many other countries, like that same character? Does the play have five years of success? Ten? More?

Why?

If we think about well known play characters – Phantom, Val Jean, Mary Poppins, Eliza Doolittle, all of them have qualities that make us love them, and things we wish they would do differently (I hate that Mary Poppins leaves Bert).

It would have been incredibly bizarre to see Elphaba in pink just as it would be ridiculous for Glinda to suddenly lose touch with fashion. Phantom will never dance at a disco, Val Jean isn’t a practical joker, Mary Poppins would never pop a hip while walking away and Eliza Doolittle won’t be releasing a rap album at the conclusion of any play. The characterization we envision for our characters needs to be the same – and strong enough that someone proposing something that goes against our character’s nature will be completely clear.

That doesn’t mean a character won’t undergo changes – they will because people do. But it needs to stay true to characterization in a way that keeps the change plausible.

What are your favorite sources for character inspiration? What are your favorite character transitions?

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Tasha Seegmiller is a mom to three kids and high school English teacher in Southern Utah. She writes contemporary women’s fiction with a dash of magic. Her loves include Diet Coke, owls, chocolate and cinnamon bears. She is an editor for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association quarterly newsletter and can be found here.

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