Creating characters is my favorite activity when I’m writing fiction. Invariably, if you’re having problems with a novel, there’s a big chance that you need to assess your characters.
Bored by your characters? Get enthusiastic. Make them outrageous — more on that in a moment.
Readers read novels for the characters. They read classic novels like Pride & Prejudice for centuries, solely because of characters like Mr. Darcy.
Writing fiction: it’s about the (story) people
When we read fiction, we’re interested in the people. As we said in this post on creating characters which sell:
… 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.
Let’s look at some tips on creating powerful characters.
1. Be clear about who a character is, and what he wants
When someone is reading your novel, you can put him at ease as soon as he understands a character. That is — he loves or hates a character.
We discussed taking your readers on an emotional journey:
Fiction isn’t real life. During the course of your novel, your characters will change as a result of their experiences…
Consider Dickens’ classic, A Christmas Carol. In that novel, Scrooge changes completely. He transforms from a miser who hates Christmas, and won’t help the poor, to someone who loves Christmas. He spends Christmas Day with his nephew’s family, sends the Cratchits a large turkey, and increases Bob Cratchit’s pay.
In developmental editing, it’s vital to be clear about a main character’s arc. You’ll set up your characters in the setup phase (25% of your book.) Then you’ll map his journey to the novel’s climax — your main characters change during the course of your novel.
2. Encourage your characters to fight, all the time
Does that sound grim? Psychological battles can be more powerful that physical battles. 🙂
Conflict is essential, because:
Your job as an author of fiction is to entertain. You can’t entertain readers if you make life easy for your characters. Give them goals and motivations which are in conflict. Make your characters fight.
3. Spark your own imagination: be outrageous
Years ago, I read a bestselling author’s comments about creating outrageous characters — it’s wonderful advice. I’ve got a feeling that it was Larry McMurtry talking about Lonesome Dove, and his character Blue Duck.
Blue Duck is an outrageous character. McMurtry felt that the character might be too over the top, but Blue Duck is exactly right. I’m sure that that character propelled the book into bestsellerdom, and into a classic.
Never hold back when creating characters. Let yourself go. Ask yourself “what else?” about each character you create.
We looked at accessing the dream-like fiction writing mind state, and said:
Writing fiction is different from writing nonfiction. To write nonfiction, you need a mind state that’s similar to your everyday mind state. Fiction, on the other hand, requires that you take a back seat, and pay attention to your subconscious mind.
With experience, you can switch mind states almost at will.
When I’m creating characters, I keep a small notebook on my bedside table. I write “what else about character X?” in the notebook, and as soon as I wake up, I scribble anything that comes to me.
Alternatively, take a creative break to muse about a character. Set a timer, and relax, with your eyes closed, for five minutes. Just wonder about the character…
You’ll be surprised at what excellent ideas you develop when you take a short creative break.
Publishing services to make publishing easier and sell more books
We’ve had many requests to develop publishing services. Over the years we’ve primarily focused on teaching and coaching, but I know that there’s a real need for done-for-you services.
Today, self-publishing is complex, and it’s essential that you publish consistently, or your sales diminish. Our new publishing services exist to make your life as an author easier.
What do you need?
Let us know, and feel free to ask questions, and for quotes on your current and future projects.
Resources to build your writing career
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