Character, Part I…

So I suppose my first writing-centered blog post should be something I feel I have a pretty good grasp on. I guess that would be “voice.” If there is one thing I get as consistent praise from my writing, it’s the voice. Spot on. Nearly every time. But honestly, I can’t tell you how that happens. I haven’t analyzed it well enough yet. So let’s visit something I have learned. Character.

You can pretty much make a continuum diagram about anything when it comes to writing. Character is no exception. A good example of these two extremes can be found in “The Lord of the Rings.” First we have Aragorn. Our Superman. Tall, dark, handsome. Rightful King. Skilled healer. Mighty warrior. Unmatched commander. Even had the foresight of the Dúnedain. Sure there was the occasional tinge of self-doubt and even pride, but he pretty much kicked butt all around. Then we have Frodo. Simple, small, unimportant, and I daresay, dorky. An “Everyman.” The underdog. The character everyone roots for because he is so much like, well, everyone.

While I would love to continue a character analysis, I’m just providing you with some examples. There is nothing wrong with having a Superman or an Everyman as your character. Obviously, they can be successful. However, from my reading (and limited writing) experience, I have to say that the best, strongest, and most relatable characters fall somewhere around the center.

Uh-huh. So how do you build that well-balanced character, Sarah?

Well, writing world, I will tell you.

Step one: Make your character likable. You need to create sympathy for your character from the audience.

  • Make your MC good at something.
  • Give your MC friends.
  • Make your MC nice.
  • Make your MC rational.
  • Instill personal and internal conflict.
  • Make your character proactive.

“Good at something.” Give your character a talent. Something small and simple that makes them just the slightest bit special. We all have something we’re good at. Don’t short-change your character.

“Friends.” It sounds silly, but your MC needs friends. If nothing else, they need someone to talk them up and point out their good and likable qualities. This also leads into my next point of making your MC nice. Nice people have friends. It kind of goes hand-in-hand.

“Nice.” When I took a class from Brandon Sanderson on this very topic, he discussed how important it was to make your character nice. It’s hard to like someone who is not so nice. Duh. But this is where “show don’t tell” can get a little sticky. Brandon suggested that you give your MC a few opportunities to “pet a puppy.” Put them in a simple situation where, through simple actions, they come off as a genuinely nice person. Pet the puppy, don’t kick the puppy.

“Rational.” This is one I am kind of struggling with right now. One of my characters is motivated to do things simply because I need her to move the plot along. It’s not working. Your readers have to understand your character’s motives and rationale. Otherwise, it’s just not believable.

“Conflict.” As a writer, you should know that conflict is the glue that holds character, plot, and setting together in a well-written novel. But the conflict I’m talking about here is personal and internal conflict. Hopefully you have already figured out you main source of conflict in your WIP, but feel free to dabble with other kinds of internal conflict. Self-doubt, pride, moral conflict…we’ve all dealt with it. Your characters should, too.

“Proactive.” Not the facewash. Unless one of your character’s flaws is acne. But that’s for Part II. No, you need to make your character proactive. Don’t let him or her just sit around and whine (I’m looking at you, Bella Swan.) Have your character be goal-driven and DO something about it.

Now I’m not saying every well-written character has to fit this profile in order to be well-written. In fact, if your character arc is based on the growth and development of one or more of these characteristics, awesome. But if you feel like maybe your MC isn’t as strong or as likable as he or she could be, take a good look at them. See if he or she could use a few more moments to shine and become friends with your audience before you bring in the conflict that will shatter their world…

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7 Responses to Character, Part I…

  1. Awesome post — and great insights!

  2. bmfm008 says:

    Sarah, Allot of good stuff about how to create a MC…however, I’d like to suggest one more…make your MC believable. We all have self-doubt and flaws (yes even I have flaws…but don’t tell anyone). Let people work through those struggles through your characters…it will help hold their interest in your stories. Good Luck, and I am glad you are doing this for yourself and your family…and letting the rest of us in on it too.

  3. rbs says:

    EXCELLENT suggestions. I hopped over here b/c Karen referred her readers to your blog, and I have to say, you didn’t disappoint! I LOVE reading blogs about writing, and I love writing blogs about writing. Especially those of aspiring writers. I look forward to reading more from you!

    Renae

  4. Jess Byam says:

    Great advice. I’m currently trying to give my characters more depth as I revise, so I’ll have to think about how to use these elements to make them better.

    One of my favorite literary characters is the brat Eustace Clarence Scrubb from C. S. Lewis’ The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. He is not nice, but the story centers on him becoming so. It makes for a fun read and moral lesson, and it’s refreshingly different from much of what else is out there.

  5. LCD says:

    “I’m looking at you, Bella Swan”. Oh my gosh that made me laugh so hard. Especially because you are totally right about her. XD

  6. Liz says:

    Hey Sarah! Welcome to the fray of writing blogs! 🙂 Great insight on character development. I wrote a post about voice a couple of weeks ago (halesink.blogspot.com) but I agree that is is difficult to explain voice as well as to discover your own voice. So hooray for you for having an excellent grasp on that already!

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