A lame plot will kill your story every time. There’s something even more threatening that will kill your story before the reader ever gets a chance to grasp the plot . . . dead characters. Yep . . . they may be talking and walking – but if they aren’t exciting, demanding, flawed, emotional, physical, and even devious, your reader won’t waste their time.
While plot is important, good characters can make or break your book. The bottom line is our characters must be realistic and believable. Even if your plot is a bit wavering – good characters will carry the story through every time. Readers care about characters they believe in, pull for, sympathize or empathize with. The interaction between your characters, relationships, and their challenges together or against each other create energetic, active and dynamic stories.
There are endless categories of relationships you can use in your book. For example; romance, siblings, best friends, child/parent, human/God, employee/boss, caregiver/receiver, aggressor/victim, and on and on . . .
It’s all about relationships and what goes wrong/right with them. Steer clear of the cliché relationships; boss and secretary, father and his precious daughter, housewife and her handsome neighbor, etc. Today’s characters are sharp, savvy, vocal, adventurous, competitive, jealous, vindictive, controlling, etc.
A clever tool to use when developing your characters is introspection. It’s a self-examination or analysis, a sort of reflection or soul-searching that reveals so much about your character. How? Have your character ask, “Why do I hate him so much? How can I get past this jealousy? Why am I so attracted to him? These questions motivate your character as the story develops.
If you’re writing about a woman who doesn’t trust men – what happened to create this wariness? What torments, sufferings, and anguishes did she go through and how is she handling it?
Character flaws or strength can be the catalyst of your story. Remember, flaws are good – no one is perfect. Does your character fight for the land of his ancestors and maybe lose his temper whenever oil company representatives show up in town? Consider giving your character flaws that can be fatal. Maybe the oil representative is innocent of swindling land, and is now facing your character’s fury . . . will he kill a guiltless man?
Have you considered the intensity of your story comes from the responses, sentiments, reactions, views, sympathies, and even love the character might have for or against one another? We associate with these reactions and that’s what makes us care about the characters in a story. We might identify with their love and maybe even their hate.
I read once, “Let your characters gossip among themselves.” Now that’s some great advice and a super way to get to know your character and those around him.
We feel a strong connection for a character who is willing to sacrifice everything for another. This character will keep you pulling for him, because we admire such a trait.
Let’s talk more about writing better characters Thursday.