Monday 24 February 2014

Status as Character Calling Card


The main character in a story will tend to have something about them that marks them out. They need to be distinct from everyone else just as a matter of practicality. It might be a special skill or ability—they’re the best at what they do—but it could also be a behavioural or psychological thing. A character who’s good-hearted or brave or willing to sacrifice or whatever.

While their job or social standing will give the reader a rough idea of the kind of person the story will be about, it’s this unique quality, this thing that marks them out, that gives them their true status. It is also what makes them appealing to read about.

However, while you as the writer may have a very clear idea of what’s so great about the character, the reader doesn’t. And letting them in on it halfway through the book is not going to do you any favours. You have to win them over in the first few pages. So how do you do that?

Monday 17 February 2014

A Protagonist’s Moment of Realisation


At some point in a story a character will realise that he’s got to do what he’s got to do. There’s no turning back.

This can happen at any time. On the first page, just before the climax, or anywhere in between—it doesn’t really matter as long as it makes sense within the story. The important thing is for the reader to see this moment so they understand how the character feels and why.

It isn’t enough to just assume the character’s reasons will be taken for granted or accepted without question.

Monday 10 February 2014

Lifting Characters Off the Page


Sometimes a character is born fully-formed. You know them as well as a member of your family and you don’t need to figure out what they think because they’re more than happy to tell you.

Other times, the character just sits on the page, lifeless and uncooperative.  You can write up a biography, have a folder full of background details and still they’re no more alive than a robot.

Creating a character that’s more than just a bag of bones is key to making a story live and breathe. But characters don’t always appear with an interesting personality and unique voice all ready to get the adventure underway. You can give them all the quirky habits and dark secrets you want, but when it comes to carrying the story from your imagination to the reader’s, something feels a little flat.

So, how can you get your characters to talk to you, and how do you make sure that what they have to say is worth reading about?

Monday 3 February 2014

Three Goals for Every Character


You can break down each character’s goals into three types: professional, private and personal.

‘Professional’ refers to the job that needs to be done. A monster has to be killed, a treasure has to be found, a wedding has to take place etc. This physical goal drives the main story and gives the hero something to do.

‘Private’ is something that characters want for themselves. It may not be the main focus of the story as it doesn’t necessarily affect other characters, but a character that only acts out of pure altruism and self-sacrifice is both unrealistic and a little annoying.

‘Personal’ is more about the psychological needs of the character. Whatever flaws or hang-ups the character might have (and he should definitely have some), there will have to be a resolution or understanding reached at some point in the story. This aspect is often the most rewarding and satisfying in a novel, but also risks being the most clichéd and obvious.

These three elements are often very closely linked and intertwined, but they can also be very separate.  Both approaches have their advantages and their disadvantages.
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