By Tiffany Colter
It is extremely important to create great characters in your book. A plot is an important part of your book, but the reality is we know the plot of almost any book.
Romance: They meet, they fall in love, there is a challenge, there is a happily ever after.
Suspense: There is a bad guy. He is coming. We eventually survive.
Thriller: There is a bad guy. He is coming. He gets lots of people. We eventually survive.
Mystery: There is a bad guy. We don’t know who he is. We figure it out.
Adventure: There are people caught in an unexpected adventure. They make it out.
I know that sounds simplistic, but think about it. That is the fact of a story. It is the people you meet and the circumstances they go through that make the story exciting. That means the key is to have characters that interest you. That is what I mean by love.
Let me be clear, I don’t mean that these have to be people we’d want to be friends with. I don’t think anyone WANTS to be “Hannibal the Cannibal” or “Phantom”. These don’t have to be people we want to emulate, but they do have to engage us.
As I read through manuscripts for clients, I have learned a few things about what makes for a neat character, how to create that character, and what not to do. I’d like to share some of those points here.
Help me to connect with them immediately. Whether we feel sympathy for them, relate to them or something else; introduce a situation that helps us immediately connect with the character, so we’re willing to go on a journey with them.
Don’t create clichés, create people. Take time to really think about who you character is, their background, their motivations and fears. This is all information you, as the writer, need to know. This doesn’t mean you write that in the book. You can drop subtle comments that give us clues about pieces of their past and how it influenced them, but it was enough to say, “I don’t do heights.” Emphatically to create a question in the readers mind. They could later say, “When I was seven I went to an airshow with my grandpa and the man’s parachute didn’t open. I watched him smash to the ground. My grandpa died a month later.” The reader will now get possible reason for their aversion to heights. The reality is, many of us don’t know the exact reason for our own phobias, so trying to have all of the psychology of your reader figured out leaves nothing for us to learn—and makes them less human.
Take the time to live in their world. This is tied to the previous thing. Think about who this character is and what they think. Imagine them interacting in their own world and doing things that you might disagree with. You don’t have to agree with your character to create them. In fact, many things about your character would be very different from you. That is what makes them fun. Try to figure out why they think differently from you and work that in to the story.
Don’t make them all versions of you. This will make a very boring book. The fun of reading is meeting different people and watching them interact in a plot. I really enjoy writing the bad guy as you can see on my various blogs from 2013 and before when I spoke on this exact topic. I have no aspirations of being a serial killer or even trying to destroy another person’s life out of revenge, but some of the characters that I’ve written have done just that. They often do it out of misplaced anger about their own life. These are fun things to create, but don’t reflect my feelings at all. Making a believable character who is completely different than you are is fun. If you can make someone diametrically opposed to your own viewpoints in a way that makes a reader sympathetic…that is excellent writing.
They shouldn’t be completely predictable, but their actions should be somewhat understandable. This could be one of the more difficult pieces of advice to implement. If you’ve done a good job of creating a character then your reader will start to get a sense of what the person would or would not do. While many great books force the character to face their greatest fears, someone who is terrified of heights would not suddenly walk up to the top of a bridge without CONSIDERABLE provocation and extreme terror. If someone has commitment problems, they cannot toss them away easily without dealing with the underlying fear.
Don’t make easy outs. This ties to the previous point, but goes deeper. Don’t let them wrap things up too easily if they’ve struggled with it prior to the book and during the course of the book. Giving a sudden revelation that wraps up your plot one page from the end is cheating. Make us work through the struggle.
If this has been helpful and you’d like to see hundreds of tips to improve your writing you can purchase the digital version of my book, “Wisdom from Writing Career Coach” for only $2.50 by following this link. This book is over 100 pages of actual coaching notes I’ve given my clients over the years to improve their writing. For less than the cost of a smoothie or some fancy coffee drink you will have a book of wisdom in small bites to help you write better.
If you’d like an autographed copy of the print version use my contact page.
Character Coaching Special: Friday, March 21st, I will offer 5 special phone coaching sessions. Each one will be one-on-one. Each one will be by phone. Each one will be 45 minutes. Each one will be only $30! First come, first serve. That is less than half the cost of a 1 hour coaching session!! The times available will be between 11:00 a.m. – 6:30 p.m. (Eastern time zone). The time must be scheduled and paid by Wednesday, March 19th or your time will be offered to another person on the list.
Whether you take advantage of a free audio download on my website, purchase the e-book or get coaching, do something to expand your knowledge about craft and our industry this week. I will see you next week, when we will learn more together about connecting with people through words.
Your Coach for the Journey, Tiffany Colter, The Writing Career Coach
Don’t miss a single posting! Subscribe here to receive these postings by e-mail. Tiffany Colter is a writer, speaker and writing career coach who works with beginner to published writers. She can be reached through her website at writingcareercoach.com.