Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Hooking Your Characters
JK Rowling works with a huge cast of characters. Even in the first book, the shortest, the reader encounters at least 50 individuals (including ghost, animals, and pictures) to meet and enjoy. And yet, despite this large cast, readers find each one interesting and memorable.
How did JKR introduce these delightful characters without having turned Sorcerer's/Philosopher's Stone into the length of the later books?
One method is by giving each character a hook. Hooks serve various purposes, but one is to provide a useful tool to help a reader remember your people when first getting acquainted before character development takes over.
A hook can be a physical description (Hagrid is a giant of a man), a manner of speaking (Quirrel's stutter), a quirk of personality (Snape's obvious hatred of Harry), a role in the story (Dumbledore as the wise, old, mentor), or, as in the mounted elf heads above, a visual result of an entire family's bigotry.
In fact the list of ways to provide a hook is as diverse as the characters themselves. But what is crucial is that the hook help to develop that individual as well as cement them in the readers' minds to be better remembered when next introduced.
Here's a list of more characters and their hooks:
Character -- (Hook)
Aunt Petunia -- (horsey face, clean freak)
Hermione -- (know-it-all)
McGonagall -- (cat animagi)
Hagrid -- (size, manner of speech)
Nick -- (nearly beheaded)
Bloody Baron -- (silvery blood stains)
Fred & George -- (each other as twins, joked)
Wesley Family -- (red hair)
Luna -- (reading Quibbler upside down, odd behavior)
Tonks -- (changing appearance, clutzy)
Neville is an interesting case because he is essentially given three hooks. Not only is he awkward and clutzy, the uncool kid of the bunch, but he has a strong memory problem. And to highlight both aspects, JKR gives the reader the active image of Neville's continuously lost frog. As is usual, the more important the character, the stronger the hooks.
This list above is only a beginning. And while JKR does have considerable freedom with her types of hooks due to the nature of her fantasy world, we can all tax our own worlds to the extreme when creating our characters and giving our reader something onto which to latch their memories.
What other characters and hooks can you think of from the series? What hooks have you used in your own work?