Fiction writing thrives on complex characters.
The personalities that carry out your plot have lives. They have inner monologues that nag their waking moments, or they suffer headaches making it hard to concentrate, and they have fears.
Compelling fiction comes from convincing characters. When you know what your character knows, describing their reactions become natural and your characters come to life.
6 Things Every Writer Should Know About Their Characters
What’s their (fictional) baggage?
We all have childhood stories that linger into our daily lives. The fear of spiders because your older sister was intent on torturing you, or perhaps a fear of heights because you fell out of a tree. Think about the micro-moments that make up your personal history. Your characters have similar tales. You don’t have to write a term paper on their background, but knowing a few key turning points in their life will add purpose to their role in your plot.
Do their strengths or weaknesses affect their actions?
Even the worst villains have redeeming qualities, something that gives them confidence. Your hero also has something about themselves that gives them pride, or even shame. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Defining this for your main characters could make for an interesting twist in your story as either a heroic save or an epic fail. What if a minor character had fallibility that affected your main character? Does that create a ripple effect of events?
What frightens them?
Periodically, I have a dream about being swallowed up by the ocean… only the waves are lapping at my house 120 miles from the coast. Pretty unsettling. I’ve learned to turn it around and go for a swim. But how does your main character overcome fear? How does it limit them or manifest itself in other parts of their lives? The raw emotion that spills out is too intense for an inner critic to stop or censor. Everybody is afraid of something, so are the people populating your novel. Thanks to my sister, I’m terrified of spiders….. even the tiny ones. (Thanks, Lynn.) Write your fears into the character’s lives and let them go about finding a way to cope or react. You may be surprised by what they do.
How far are your characters willing to go to get what they want?
Steal? Lie? Murder? How badly do they want this thing they think they need? The tenser your story and the more intense your character, the further they will push to reach their goal. Everyone has a line they won’t cross, where does your character draw the line? Is it at a crucial point that keeps them from what they’re seeking?
Are they hiding something?
Everybody has a secret, something in their past they want to forget. Perhaps it’s a motive the character is hiding. Sometimes a small thing can have huge ramifications as it rolls through the plot gathering lies and deception.
Who are their people?
From where did this character emerge? What is the culture of their upbringing? Family life? Friends? What are the personality dynamics at play that shape how they interact with everyone whom they come into contact? I think we’re all shaped by our families and extended friends and experiences. Characters have family sidebars that either push them in one direction or pull them into another. That could be a full novel all by itself.
I think this is why series are so much fun. You have multiple books to show the tiny bits that make up a character and begin to build a history through their behaviors and actions. Characters then become familiar to the reader making them feel like friends that are safe and entertaining to spend time with.
In Wired, Jade Weekes is an art thief, but she never crosses the line of violence – that is until pushed. Her father’s murder provided a tipping point that makes her rethink the deceptions she weaves so effortlessly. Her past created a plot line for Wired, and the plot of Wired provided a turning point for her character to continue into another story.
A well-written book leaves you in a different place than where you started, and characters should grow in a way that allows the reader to feel they’ve taken the journey too.
Making your characters and their actions realistic taps into the reader’s emotions, therefore keeping them hooked to the last page.
So go on, dig in and see what therapy your characters need to let readers get to know them.
Thanks for reading,