While there are many different ways of writing fiction, readers’ decision whether or not to buy your novels depends on your characters.
You know this. Every author knows this, but it’s easy to get sidetracked.
Listen up. Characters sell. I read authors’ blurbs every day. Not only do I read my students’ blurbs, I’m also a member of several Facebook authors’ groups on which authors post their blurbs for novels which aren’t selling.
Writing fiction: your characters sell
When you’re writing fiction, your characters sell. NO ONE cares about your plot, until they care about your characters.
I’ve noticed that whenever an author says that his novel isn’t selling, his novel’s blurb focuses on the story. The characters are simply names. So, of course readers aren’t buying the novel.
Here are some tips for writing novels which sell.
1. When you’re writing fiction, start with your story people
When you begin a novel start with your story people – with your main characters. Don’t create character dossiers. Instead, give each character an attribute and quirk.
I’ve discussed my character creation template, which is very simple. It’s name, age, occupation, attribute.
From my article Fiction Writing Tips For Beginners: Create A Character.
Here’s an easy character creation template:
▪ Primary external problem
Please read that article.
For REAL story people, please be aware that your characters are their behavior, and their behavior grows your plot.
2. Have you created a character you love or hate? Next, focus on the story question
OK. You’ve created a character you love. She’s a present-day, female Sherlock Holmes; ferociously intelligent, but without discernible social skills.
If you’re a pantser, you may start writing. On the other hand, if you’re an author who outlines, you outline amazing adventures for your socially awkward but brainy sleuth.
Either way, at around page 100, you get bored. Chances are, you stop working on the novel, because you’re waiting for “inspiration.”
Your problem? You’ve written 100 pages of exposition. Remember narrative drive. As we said in Write Fiction For Readers: 3 Tips For Narrative Drive:
What’s narrative drive? It’s what makes your story involving, and keeps it moving.
I’m currently watching Hostages on Netflix, the original Israeli version. The main character is a surgeon who’s about to operate on the Israeli prime minister. Terrorists seize the family in their home: the surgeon’s told that she must murder the prime minister when she operates on him, or her family will die.
What will the surgeon do? Will she choose her family, or the prime minister? Who will live, and who will die? That’s the story question. It powers the narrative — it’s the narrative drive.
So, we have our female Sherlock Holmes. What ferocious need will drive this character through 300-plus pages of suspense? Your story question must always be a matter of life and death for your main character — whatever the problem, your character can’t say, “Um… thank you, but no, not interested.”
Readers want to read about characters who CARE
Today’s society being what it is, I’m often asked whether an author’s character can be someone who does a little pot. “For realism…” the author says.
Sherlock Holmes used cocaine and opium; they’re character quirks:
Dr Watson, who knows more about cocaine side effects, deplores Holmes’s intravenous drug use and warns him that abuse of any drug may jeopardize his excellent career and ruin his health.
Alexander Conan Doyle gave Holmes various quirks, but Holmes is always a character who cares about the story question.
Getting back to our female Sherlock Holmes.
By the end of your novel’s exposition (set up) you must introduce the story question, and it must be a matter of life and death — your character MUST care.
So, brainstorm things which matter to your main character:
- Her brother is a whistle blower. He disappears. Your main character loves her brother. The story question: can she rescue her brother before he dies?
- Your female Sherlock is dismissed from a case. Her entire sense of identity is built on her abilities, so the story question is: can she solve the case?
- And so on, and so forth — remember, the story question is always a matter of real, or metaphorical, life and death. Your character CARES, and so will readers.
Character creation when writing fiction: the adjective trick for writing fiction
Create characters. Your plot is what your characters do. And as we’ve said, forget lengthy character dossiers.
Here’s a simple trick: it’s just an adjective, but it’s useful to get you started creating characters:
- A ferociously intelligent female sleuth;
- A careless doctor;
- A greedy stepmother…
Have fun. 🙂
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