Media Monday: The Peanuts and Characterization

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In 1950, the well-known comic strip about a sad little boy in a yellow shirt made its first appearance in American newspapers. While the wild success of the comic can be attributed to a number of reasons, one main factor is the characterization of the Peanuts cast. When you think of Lucy, Charlie Brown, Linus, Snoopy, or any of the other main characters, it isn’t hard to decide how they would think or act in a situation.

Take Charlie Brown and Lucy, for instance. The comic below shows Lucy’s self-assurance and disregard for authority figures, while it is easy to tell that Charlie Brown’s confidence is affected by what others think of him. Throughout the series, Lucy and Charlie Brown are contrasted against each other. This is one technique, called foiling, that fiction authors also use to show the personalities of their characters. By placing two very different characters beside each other, the qualities of each are emphasized. In this way, the main qualities of characters are brought into the light without overly overt measures.

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Character interactions are also extremely important to nail down. Readers can tell a lot about a character by what others say about them and what they say about others. While the comic below is a little blunt, it does demonstrate that Shermy can put on a face for those he doesn’t like and that Charlie Brown is rather isolated from the rest of the group. Small interactions like this take place all over the comics and tell a lot about the characters in just a few words.

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The true success of Schultz’s characterization rests in the fact that he created developed, believable characters who have their own personalities and interact in a realistic manner. A writer should know their characters as well as they know themselves. After all, you’ll have to be writing from inside their heads. Take a personality test ‘as your character’ and read the results. Think about what they would do in certain situations. The goal is to get to point, when you’re writing, where you can look at something you wrote about your character and think “that is or is not something they would do or say” with confidence. Focus on the minute details to show big things about your characters. After all, this is how we operate in the real world. When we meet someone knew, we watch to see whether they open the door, how often they talk about themselves, or whether they look at us when we talk. Focus on similar things when describing your characters and you’ll allow readers to get to know your characters just like they would anyone.

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