In fiction writing, if you don’t have a clear insight into your characters, editing your first draft is sheer misery.
Suddenly you realize that your pacing is muddled and your climax is much ado about nothing. Writing a blurb which sells is impossible, because you’ve lost track of your story question completely.
In a recent fiction writing class we worked on editing characters, so I thought you might find these tips useful too. Getting your characters straight in your own mind as soon as possible saves a lot of editing time and angst later.
In fiction writing, it’s all about the characters
Unfortunately there’s no magic trick to making characters “come alive.” You construct them.
Instead of lengthy character bios which you won’t remember, try choosing keywords for your characters instead. That serves a double purpose. It makes your characters’ attributes easier to remember, and it also kickstarts you into several scenes. Once you’ve decided that Fred’s bad-tempered, and that Alice regrets marrying him, you show that in your early scenes.
Let’s look at two tips which you can use at any time when writing your first draft; try to do it as soon as you can. If you do, you’ll find that your characters will do most of your plotting for you — and editing will be much faster and easier.
1. Choose your main characters’ physical, mental and emotional characteristics immediately
Here’s an excellent chart of personality traits. Keep it simple: choose a maximum of three traits per main character. You’ll spend the most time with your protagonist (main character), so choose traits which spark inspiration.
For example, let’s say you’ve decided that your female protagonist is compassionate, witty, and absentminded. How would you show that she’s compassionate in a scene? Does she own a dog? A cat? An otter?
How would you show that she’s witty and absentminded?
Your antagonist — your main character’s enemy — needs suitable attributes. Let’s say she’s female too. You decide that she’s charming, deceptive, and aggressive. How does she use those attributes to create chaos for your protagonist? List a couple of potential scenes.
Be aware that you’ll need to choose a main trait for secondary characters too.
2. Decide on your characters’ breaking points, based on their backstory
The more misery you can create for your characters, the more you’ll engross readers. That said, avoid larding your fiction with backstory. Keep your story moving.
Although you won’t include a lot of backstory, you need to know what drives your main characters. What do they want? Why? Their needs not only drive your story, they drive your characters to their breaking point when it seems that they can’t get what they want.
In fiction writing, knowing your characters saves time later
“Knowing your characters” means knowing their attributes, their goals, and their breaking points.
Start off by deciding on your primary characters’ personality traits. Then you can decide on their physical traits. Good looks — or the lack of them — are important: many studies have shown that very attractive people have built-in advantages.
It’s worth spending time choosing your characters’ attributes, and planning scenes to showcase them. You’ll save time later, in editing. Have fun. 🙂
How To Write Novels And Short Stories Readers Love: You're about to discover the easiest, fastest, and most fun plotting method ever. You can use it for all your fiction, whether you're writing short stories, novellas or novels. Take control of your fiction now, and publish more, more easily.More info →
I developed the tactics and strategies in this book to help myself. My students have found them essential to producing both fiction and nonfiction almost effortlessly.More info →