Developing Plot Ideas To Show Characterisation

Posted at 18:58pm on 16th June 2010

I suggested, last week, that creative writing - that is writing a novel – requires an understanding of human nature. So where is an author to turn for such material? How can your book have that ring of authenticity whilst maintaining a page turning quality?

Any well-known, classical, story may be used as the basis of a modern-day novel. Reading and analysing the plot ideas behind a Bible story, for instance, can suggest the outline for a contemporary tale, and reveal the creative writing techniques that will make it a winner. And since a novel should always be character driven, such analysis will also help to reveal some of the idiosyncrasies of characterisation.

SHOW & TELL

In my last post, Creative Writing Plot Ideas: Dealing With Manipulative People, I looked at the background to the story of Samson and Delilah. This week, I want to develop that analysis by focusing on Delilah. It’s worth noticing, at this point, that the reader is never told anything about Delilah’s character. We actually know little about her from the Bible story, but a further examination of the flaws in Samson’s character reveals something of her negative personality traits. As the story unfolds, Delilah’s character is shown to the reader through her reaction to the actions of the protagonist.

This sequence, of showing a character’s reactions to the actions of another character, is crucial to the structure of a novel – as I’ve explained in Writing Your First Novel: How Viewpoint Affects Show & Tell. As an author studying the characters of Samson and Delilah, I find it fascinating thinking of their modern-day equivalents.

CHARACTERISATION: NEGATIVE PERSONALITY TRAITS

There’s no doubt that women were Samson’s big weakness. It seems that despite having been ‘set aside for God’, he thought nothing of going with prostitutes. But Delilah was not simply another one night stand. We learn in Judges 16:4 that Samson fell in love with her.

Why? Was it her beauty? I doubt that it was that simple! Samson could probably take his pick of beautiful women. So what can we assume about this relationship?

USING POWER AS THE BASIS OF PLOT IDEAS

I think power would have played a large part. Samson ruled Israel for 20 years and was a man of great power. Power has the potential to corrupt. People either hate you. Or they love you – in a sycophantic way.

The name Samson means a ‘little sun’. Delilah’s name, by contrast, means ‘weak’, or ‘flirt’ – depending on whether it’s in Hebrew or Arabic. It’s quite possible that she found Samson’s power intoxicating!

CONTRASTING CHARACTER TRAITS

Here we see how the juxtaposition of one character’s positive personality traits (Samson’s power) can be used to portray another character’s negative personality traits!

Many women seem to find power in a man a heady attraction. And Delilah was certainly a woman who recognised both the power and weakness of a man like Samson; a woman who wanted to measure her own power by how easily she could undermine his.

  • She was a temptress.

We’ve all heard of people like that. People who urge you to have a cream slice when you’re dieting; to have a fag when you’ve given up smoking; to exceed the speed limit and show that so-and-so who’s just cut you up what’s what and who’s boss! People who egg you on to have one more drink! People who try to persuade you that there’s no harm in using the office phone for an overseas call; those who encourage you to boost your expenses; or forget to mention that extra income on your tax form.

They take delight in undermining your conscience, your will-power, because winning boosts their perception of their own power.

It’s worth repeating one of Selwyn Hughes’ quotes (made in the days before one pound sterling was a coin): How do you make a one pound note worth more than a five pound note? Tear up the five pound note!

Just think of the mighty men who’ve fallen because of a woman: America’s President Clinton; the UK Cabinet Minister, John Profumo; world-class golfer, Tiger Woods; and footballer, Ashley Cole. I’ve known a few temptresses in my time. The ‘friends’ – plural – to whom I joked that if ever my children’s father were to stray it would be to drink rather than women. Those same ‘friends’ then tempted him into their beds to prove me wrong, breaking up not only my marriage, but their own, too.

CHARACTERISATION & CREATIVE WRITING TECHNIQUES

Using the concept of power as the basis of your plot ideas, just look at what has been highlighted by this study of the relationship between Samson and Delilah. Note how little of Delilah’s characterisation is actually stated, yet how much has been implied.

Characterisation does not need to be overtly expressed. Indeed, it may detract from the narrative. A more subtle approach can be achieved by showing the negative personality traits of one character only in response to those of another character.

NEXT TIME:

We’ll take a look at different plot ideas and how they may be used to portray character.

Related articles: Creative Writing Techniques

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