When a reader picks up a book, they expect to connect with the characters quickly. If this doesnâ€™t happen, chances are the book will be put aside in favor of one that has more impact in terms of the characters. This article explores ways writers can create memorable book characters by using a simple strategy of looking at all aspects of the visual and psychological qualities of each â€œbook personâ€.
When a reader picks up a book, they expect to connect with the characters quickly. If this doesnâ€™t happen, chances are the book will be put aside in favour of one that has more impact in terms of the characters. This article explores ways writers can create memorable book characters by using a simple strategy of looking at all aspects of the visual and psychological qualities of each â€œbook personâ€.
How a fiction story can evolve
When a fiction writer gets a story idea, it can come into their mind as a couple of characters and a premise, or like a bolt out of the blue with a strong story idea and many characters waiting to be developed. There is no right or wrong way for a writer to formulate a story idea or characters. What is important is that during the course of the story, each writer should strive to make their characters memorable for their readers. To do this, it is wise to consider having less about what the characters look like and more about how they affect the story.
These are the some of the things about book characters that help to drive the story forward to its conclusion:
- How the character behaves and why
- What they say and how they say it.
- What the character thinks about various situations in the story and the actions and reactions of other characters.
- How their past life experiences affect the current situation or their behaviours.
- Why they are afraid of something.
- Their motivation for doing certain things.
- Character relationship to story
Essentially, charactersâ€™ actions, reactions, motivations, conflicts, personality traits and interaction with each other drives a story. Physical appearance can be secondary unless it has an impact on the storyline. For example, a huge scar on a characterâ€™s face reveals a past event that happened and this will probably need to be explained.
As you write your story, be aware that constantly referring to the visual appearance and physical aspects of your characters because this can become irritating to the reader. In fact, a lot of readers prefer to imagine the charactersâ€™ appearance as they read the story. They donâ€™t want to be told too much or reminded every few pages that Jack has blue eyes.
Romance stories, in particular, often contain clichÃ©d phrases to describe the appearance of the central characters. As a reader, I do not like clichÃ©s for anything and especially dislike â€œchiselled jawsâ€, â€œsharp planes of facesâ€ etc. etc. I prefer less visuals and more mind stuff.
I favour starting a story with the characters being plunged into the action with a strong external and internal conflict being established as soon as possible.. I then filter small amounts of information about the character (past and present) as and when it relates to the story development.
Character profile and analysis
Before starting to write a book, I recommend that a writer needs to totally know the people they are writing about. This can be achieved by completing a detailed character profile for each primary and secondary character in the story. This is essentially a list of as many things about the person as can be formulated prior to writing the story. Of course more aspects of the character will emerge as the story unfolds. These can be added to the profile as you go along.
Pertinent details for a character profile include visual and psychological attributes as well as things like age, whether the character has siblings, parents still living etc.
Naturally you need to establish a characterâ€™s age, birth date, star sign, hair and eye colour, height, weight etc. However, it is the psychological aspects of your book characters that will have the most impact on the storyline.
The triggers I use to devise my book characters are essentially the synonyms of â€œcharacterâ€.
- Moral fibre
From this point, look at the synonyms for each individual synonym. Youâ€™ll be surprised at how many ideas about your character will emerge. For instance, a characterâ€™s nature and temperament has a huge bearing on how they behave and interact with others. Their personality and disposition also affect how they react to various situations.
Using this tactic to get to know your characters intimately will provide benefits to the way you write your story.
There are so many things that writers need to take account of when developing characters. I refer in particular to dialogue and introspection â€“ what the character says and thinks. This is a writing technique that requires considerable practice to get right in terms of how it enriches a story.
Developing fiction characters is one of the most interesting facets of writing a book. A writer is virtually in charge of every aspect of their being for the time it takes to tell the story. Time spent on character development prior to writing a story is not time wasted. It is one of the most important parts of the total process of writing a book. After all, without characters, what would the story be about?
Personal knowledge and experience
An excerpt from my book Being a Successful fiction Writer â€“ from the chapter â€œCharacter Developmentâ€
Â© 2012 â€“ Susan Jane
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