Sunday, April 3, 2011

C is for.... Characters

There were a number of topics I thought about for this C post - cooking & critiquing being just two of them - but I decided characters are more important than anything else.

Every good story has characters in it. They are our way into the story, our guides. And as such, readers need to engage with them. Therefore, your characters need to be real.

People aren't perfect. Everyone has their flaws and foibles, their obsessions and fears. Characters are no different. They can't be all good, or all bad because in real life, people aren't as back and white as that. We're all a mixture.

In Prayer and Prey, William is the villain of the piece. He's a dull, distracted man who doesn't think twice about beating his farmhands when they displease him. Yet when I introduce him, he's quite charming, and even once we've begun to realize he's a nasty piece of work, he shows glimmers of humanity and moments of kindness. On the other side, Danny, the hero, is introduced as the bad guy, his inherent goodness only showing through as we get to know him.

In this way, I've manipulated the readers' expectations about the characters from the start, letting them know that nothing and no one is exactly what they seem.

For me, all stories start with the characters. They pop up in my head and as I get to know them, I start thinking 'I wonder what would happen if x happened to y'. And that's often the beginning of the story for me, even if x may be an event that happens right in the middle of the book.

As the writer, you need to know everything about the characters, even if most of the information never makes it into the story. By having all that stored in your head (or in a notebook on your desk) your characters will have a life of their own, and will leap from the page as fully formed people. That Alan once wanted to be a chef has no bearing on the events in Assignment 9, but I know that about him, and it adds a layer to his character even though that fact is never referenced in the novel.

What's something about one of your characters only you know?


  1. I agree. Characters are probably the most important part of a story. No matter how great the plot is, if you don't have an emotional connection with the characters, either good or bad, you're not going to want to read on.

    Great post :)

  2. Hi there, I found you on the A-Z challenge

  3. Totally agree. Characters are the main element. If you don't have strong characters then, no matter how strong the plot is, the story will fail. Great post.

  4. This is a very interesting post especially for someone who is writing a novel. Making characters engaging & real is so important.

  5. That's a good question. I like to do character questionnaires of one sort or another, so a lot of the information from those never gets into the story.

    Mairiae, from "The Angel's Charlie", was punched and emotionally abused by her stepbrother as a teenager. She didn't open up and say that during the first draft, though she did mention to Richard that stepbrother was "The reason I learned Taekwondo."

  6. I spend so much time with my characters I sometimes forget what parts about their lives I've written about and which parts are only in mind.

  7. So true, I'm always hooked when I get to know the characters. The really good descriptive ones remain with me after I've closed the book.
    Wanna buy a duck

  8. If I told you, then I wouldn't be the only one who knew it anymore, would I? =)

    A nice post. Strong, well developed characters are vital to a successful story.

    M.J. Fifield
    My Pet Blog