Learning to Write XX
How do you know if, instead of creating a rounded character or a personified trait, you have inadvertently created a caricature?
A caricature is someone who can have no other existence except within the special atmosphere of the story. So what you must do is take this figure and try transferring him or her out of the surroundings you have provided, and place him in your own home. The test here is not to determine if that person would be happy or comfortable in the different environment. It is to see if he can live and breath at all outside of the fictitious world of your narrative. Can this character walk through your front door, continue his conversation at your kitchen table and avoid being regarded as insane by anyone else who happens to be there?
Bertie Wooster couldn’t do it. Hannibal Lecter would fail to impress your girlfriends. Huckleberry Finn would certainly not be comfortable, but unless you were of a nervous disposition you wouldn’t call a doctor or the police. And Sally Bowles with her emerald green fingernails may well cause a stir in the neighbourhood, as neurotics do, but people would recognise her. She would be a bit of a character.
Wooster and Lecter are caricatures. They can’t make the transition. The other two are characters.
Caricature certainly has its place, as the above two examples demonstrate. But if you create a caricature inadvertently as your main figure, out of laziness, when what was really needed for the narrative was a rounded character, then there is little you can do to correct it. Caricature has a habit of sticking around. You can try tinkering but nine times out of ten you would be better off abandoning the story and starting again.