Are you one of those people who say, “I’d like to write a book someday, but I don’t know where to start”?
Do you hesitate to start writing because of confusion about what to say and how to shape your ideas?
I’m here to tell you that there is no wrong way to write.
New books break the rules. Yes, I know we are all told that debut novelists shouldn’t step outside the box. Wrong! Debut writers are known for their risk taking and ultimate success. J. K. Rowling, Kathryn Stockett, Stephen King, Jesmyn Ward, Vanessa Diffenbauch
What makes you happy might not make me happy. Creativity is the ultimate enigma—the greatest mystery of the universe.
But—and this is a big but—there are some rules about writing that are sacrosanct.
6 Key elements to develop a story worth reading
1. Protagonist: star of the show
2. Characters: people to talk to the protagonist, includes the antagonist
3. Plot: a story deliberately arranged to be interesting
4. Point(s) of view: the storyteller
5. Setting(s): where the action takes place (scene changes)
6. Tension: not the same as conflict
Today, let’s talk about characters. I’ve added some clues with each bullet.
1. Your protagonist is the key to every story. It is incumbent on the author to identify and explain the physical, psychological, and sociological traits of the lead character. I use a method similar to FBI profiling to get to know my characters inside and out.
|Good Characters are Multidimensional|
Your protagonist must want/yearn for something - not necessarily tangible—often love, acceptance, winning a battle, killing the bad guys, winning the girl/guy, forgiving themselves or others, redemption, big diamond, the gold, the crystal skull. Shrek finds true love. Miss Havisham seeks revenge. Katniss strives to live. Sherlock solves the case. Gamache brings justice. Sarah Booth protects her friends. Harry finds his place. Indiana Jones finds tangible and intangible things of value.
2. Strong character development is required. It is important to:
a. Create characters that you look forward to spending time with because both you and the reader will be doing just that. Indiana Jones, Alex Cross, Miss Marple, Harry Potter, Hermione, & Ron, Rizzoli & Isles, Miss Julia, Detective Gamache, Father Tim
b. Create characters your reader will follow, whether they like them or not. Ms. Danvers, Draco Malfoy, Lisbeth, Miss Havisham, Sgt. Havers, Hannibal Lector, Dracula.
c. Create interesting characters that you “know” and either understand or come to understand, and half the battle is won. Harry Potter, Anne of Green Gables, Pip, Georgia Bottoms, William Monk, Thomas Pitt, Kay Scarpetta, Sherlock, Jane Eyre, Heathcliff.
3. Define the enemy of the protagonist (antagonist). Can be themselves, a parent, friend, society, bad guy, boss, co-worker. Batman vs The Joker, Kramer vs Kramer, Katniss vs President Snow, Dorian Gray vs himself, Romans vs Masada
For me, characters come quite naturally. For others, the plot springs to mind first. It doesn’t matter, as long as you get where you want to go with your writing.
I love learning about the characters that pop into my head and creating new ones for them to pal around, argue, and enjoy sharing the pages. Characters are the foundation of a good book. A great story can be staring us in the face, but without characters to bring the story to life, the story isn’t going anywhere. And conversely, great characters without a story simply toy with readers' emotions.
Do you have special tricks you use to bring your characters to life?