Since I’m learning so much about writing and marketing and selling written works up here in good ‘ol Whidbey Island, WA, it might be time to do a short little post series on what I’m learning so far.
The series schedule will go a little something like this:
- I’ll totally forget this post and/or get so bogged down in work
- Crap, this is actually a lot of stuff to write about…
- I’m running out of things to say…
- HAHAHAHAHAH! No I’m not.
- Queries/ Publishing
Something like that, but don’t hold me to it. Short sweet and to the point.
Note: just because I make posts on what comprises good writing does not mean my writing is flawless. Just thought I’d put that in there. I think all people who write about writing should have this disclaimer. That would sure make things easier.
This post is about characters! Yay! Who doesn’t love good characters?
Apparently a lot of people, judging by the amount of flat, one-dimensional creations I see on the page.
I go by the belief that stories are character driven or plot driven or a mix of both.
You could even argue some are driven by setting, but we’ll get to Plot and Settings later.
There are a few things that can make your characters more interesting:
- Personality- Well, gee! Didn’t think of that, did you? But in all honesty, some books read like the author didn’t think of that.
Actually read over your character. Do they have quirks? Some catch phrase or defining quality that makes them believable or likable? If you were to meet them at a party, would you say ‘That guy/girl’s a character. We should go bowling together” (I’m assuming you like bowling). If not, make them interesting! Give them a cool hobby, a unique habit, something you don’t see in everyday people.
Not just that, but your characters must grapple with situations and emotions that real people deal with. Real people are emotionally driven, (unless they’re sociopaths. Just saying) and as such they do very unpredictable things at unpredictable times. What would happen if your main character’s best friend suddenly turned on them? What would happen if your main character’s mother is suddenly unhappy with her relationship?
Having characters react in an unexpected way is more realistic because people react in unexpected ways. It also keeps the readers guessing.
2. Personal Stakes- This can also be defined as ‘why the reader should care’.
What drives you character to do the things they do? Is it money, love, revenge, a piece of jewelry that threatens to enslave all of the land in the grips of a disembodied eye at the top of a tower?
There are plenty of stories where the character has almost no drive to do what they do. But even more than that, what the character wants most, or what they’re driving for must always be in peril. Raise the stakes. Make them higher and higher the further you go into the story.
- Change- Good characters change over time. If the plot of the book has any effect on the character at all then they have to come out of it better, or worse, than when they went in. Change is a part of life. This kind of ties in with why the reader should care about your character. They watch them struggle and claw to reach the goal, and in the end they want them to come out okay. Not just okay; stronger and more resilient than ever. I guess another correct term could be character arc. Whatever.
Obviously a lot of this stuff is very basic, but if you want a little more in depth then there are TONS (too many, honestly) of books on the subject. One of the only writing books I will ever recommend is Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook. There is an actual book too, with actual exercises at the end of actual chapters, but who honestly does those exercises? It might be better to just get the workbook and work through it with your novel.