HELP, I’m Terrified!! (Part 2)

How The Heck Do I Write a Novel in 30 Days???

Characters.  It’s hard to have a good story without them.  They’re what make the plot move forward, make the story world spin, and what keeps the reader interested.

So why the heck are they so complicated to write?  Well, a good character is multi-dimensional, which inherently makes them hard to write.  They have relationships with their parents and siblings, they have values and vices, some of which may even contradict.  They have strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, pet peeves and quirks.

Although good characters change as the story goes along, they need to be consistent.  That is, they need to have pretty much the same physical and emotional traits (little details like mannerisms, ways of speaking, and eye colour).  These details may tell the reader something about your character as well.  For example, the manner in which a character speaks might tell us something about their background or education.  Their table manners might indicate that they had overly strict parents, or parents who cared not a whit for manners.

One of the best ways to keep your character consistent is to keep a record of physical and personality traits.  There are many great character questionnaires and development sheets that can help with this, but how you fill them out is telling as well.  What is your character’s background?  How did their relationship with their family affect them?  What was the favourite dish that their mother used to serve for dinner?  Were they popular in school or an outcast?  All of these things will affect them later in life.

Characters should have motivations for acting in the way that they do.  These should be clear to the author and may or may not be clear to the reader.  They should also change, even if only a little, as the story goes on.  They should confront problems or conflicts and (ideally) overcome them in a way that advances the story.  Very few believable characters can go through a story without changing, but change is hard, both on the character and for the writer.  It should be slow enough to be believable, but also consistent with the character’s existing values and beliefs that is: all action should be organic and flow logically from the characters’ desires and values.

Writing good, believable characters doesn’t have to be hard as long as you keep a few key points in mind:

1) Be consistent.  How can the reader find your character believable if his eye colour keeps changing?

2) Know their motivations

3) Keep them in conflict

4) Let them change and grow

 

Here are some additional sources you can reference (Disclaimer: we do not personally or professionally endorse any of these sites, nor do we have any affiliation with their creators):

http://www.pgtc.com/~slmiller/characterdevelopment.htm

http://www.angelfire.com/mi/fictionaddiction/character.html

http://www.musik-therapie.at/PederHill/Character.htm

http://thescriptlab.com/screenwriting/character/creating-characters/21-character-development

http://www.squidoo.com/character-development-questions

 

Good luck!

2 Comments


  1. Great post on Characters! It’s important to give them a blend of attributes and flaws because then readers can relate to them on a human level. Too, writing their emotions in a clear, active way that utilizes body language, thoughts and visceral reactions is another great way to bring readers im close to the main character.

    Angela Ackerman


  2. If you feel like reading like mad during the last few days before Nov. 1st, I recently read some books that do great jobs of addressing character construction – ‘Story’ by Robert McKee and ‘Write Away’ by Elizabeth George. George in particular has a lot to say about spending a lot of time building your characters’ backgrounds before the story starts (and many helpful questions to ask of your characters as you plan). McKee’s book is geared towards screenwriters but the lessons are applicable for us, too. I loved his repeated emphasis on conflict and change: what are the story values in your piece (i.e. love/hate, courage/cowardice, truth/lie)? What do your characters want and why can’t they get it? I actually made myself a cheat sheet of pointers taken from his ‘story structure’ chapters, and refer to it as I plan my characters. The words, “No Scene Without A Value Turn” are emblazoned across the top.

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