"Well, you really can't be afraid when you write a book, If it's going to be a good story, the main thing about it is it needs to be emotionally honest. And that means that there will be things that are difficult to write or to deal with because people have a tendency to shy off from going to very dark places." Diana Gabaldon
To me, this quote (from a very successful author) means breathing life into your characters through real, honest emotion. Really, the quote can apply to the entire story, but if your characters aren't real enough, no one will feel invested in them enough to read more. I think this is a mistake newbie writers make quite a bit. We tend to focus on plot and structure, while our characters are weak and shadowy.
I've learned to sketch each of my main characters before I start writing the first draft. I have a series of questions I ask them so that I truly have a clear picture of who each character is. I think sometimes the image in our mind is muddled, and that comes out in the story as well.
So let's say we have our story idea. First, we choose our protagonist to build the plot around. Next, we create the bio:
Ask your MC (main character):
1. What does she/he want more than anything?
2. What are the MC's core traits (generosity, bravery?)
3. What flaws get in the way of your MC's goals ( pride, self-doubt?)
4. What emotional baggage from the MC's past effects his/her motivations?
Additional tips: (taken from Morrell's "Thanks, But This isn't for Us" writing guide and told in my own way)
* Imagine yourself in your character's shoes. Force your character to do exactly what you're afraid to.
* Each detail and quirk you give your character MUST make the character come alive
* What fascinates you about your character? (wit, a secret)
* What is your MC's deepest fear? Knowing this will give your MC a soul. (You don't have to ever state the fear anywhere in your story, but YOU knowing it will create the depth in the character's actions)
* Your scenes should make the MC uncomfortable, put him/her in awkward situations every time to see how he/she reacts. These reactions will be what brings your character to life.
* Give your characters a past, memories, dreams, hopes (Again, you don't have to ever state what these are, but you should know them in order to know your character)
*Give your MC emotional relationships that will reveal his/her complexity
*Give your MC a chance to pause or reflect after action scenes. Not too much introspection, just enough to watch your character grow.
*Give your MC a weakness that's the flip side of their strength. Maybe her/his strong will makes her too pig-headed
*Make your MC out of sync with her/his surroundings
*Make sure the other characters in your cast do NOT love, respect, or support your MC at all times.
* Play up the conflict in scenes between two or more characters. Do this early on in order to snag your reader and cause them to become emotionally invested.
*Your MC should grow over the course of the story. Make sure the potential for growth is evident very early on--from the first chapter.
*If you have a villain, make sure the villain is flawed and relatable. Perhaps the serial rapist was beaten/molested as a child. Make sure the reader knows a little of the villain's past, so the reader understands why he/she does the evil things.
My fave way to create compelling characters is to people watch. Real life peeps are about as amusing and fascinating as anything fictional. I like the real oddballs. I watch them in public places and take notes of their eccentricities. You can find amusing traits by watching peeps you know as well. Find out what fascinates you about people. What makes them interesting, even if you wouldn't want to spend any time with them in real life--these are the peeps that are fun to watch and read about.
Why do you think Jersey Shore is so popular? People ca't turn away because the characters are so fascinating. Not necessarily fascinating in a good way, but who ever said good is fascinating? Nobody wants a perfect character.
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