How do we define and think about “characterization” in fiction? Depending on the literary tradition, it may vary substantially. Take, for example, Amos Tutuola’s fiction, especially his iconic works. As noted in Wonderbook, Tutuola doesn’t use an approach that fits our commercial mainstream concept of it. His structures that house his characters also tend to circle back on themselves while exerting an inexorable forward momentum–a momentum that would be blunted by fleshing out what we think of as “fully rounded” characters. More insight can be gleaned from this interview with Yinka Tutuola, Amos’ son.
For further study, the archive at Weirdfictionreview.com provides a useful starting point because weird fiction sometimes eschews fully rounded characters, substituting in other approaches or traditions, but it does also encompass full characterization in its more centrist modes.
Excerpt from The Palm-Wine Drinkard…
Now we started our journey from the Deads’ Town directly to my home town which I had left for many years. As we were going on this road, we met over a thousand deads who were just going to the Deads’ Town and if they saw us coming towards them on that road, they would branch into the bush and come back to the road at our back. Whenever they saw us, they would be making bad noise which showed us that they hated us and also were very annoyed to see alives. These deads were not talking to one another at all; even they were not talking plain words except murmuring. They always seemed as if they were mourning, their eyes would be very wild and brown and every one of them wore white clothes without a single stain.
NONE OF THE DEADS TOO YOUNG TO ASSAULT. DEAD BABIES ON THE ROAD-MARCH TO THE DEADS’ TOWN
We met about 400 dead babies on that road who were singing the song of mourning and marching to Deads’ Town at about two o’clock in the mid-night and marching towards the town like soldiers, but these dead babies did not branch into the bush as the adult-deads were doing if they met us, all of them held sticks in their hands. But when we saw that these dead babies did not care to branch for us then we stopped at the side for them to pass peacefully, but instead of that, they started to beat us with the sticks in their hands, then we began to run away inside the bush from these babies, although we did not care about any risk of that bush which might happen to us at night, because these dead babies were the most fearful creatures for us. But as we were running inside the bush very far off that road, they were still chasing us until we met a very huge man who had hung a very large bag on his shoulder and at the same time that he met us, he caught us (my wife and myself) inside the bag as a fisherman catches fishes inside his net. But when he caught us inside his bag, then all of the dead babies went back to the road and went away. As that man caught us with that bag, we met inside it many other creatures there which I could not describe here yet, so he was taking us far away into the bush. We tried with all our power to come out of the bag, but we could not do it, because it was woven with strong and thick ropes, its size was about 150 feet diameter and it could contain 45 persons. He put the bag on his shoulder as he was going and we did not know where he was taking us to by that night and again we did not know who was taking us away, whether he was a human-being or spirit or if he was going to kill us, we never knew yet at all.