This is the second in my series about writing your first book. I’ve spoken with so many people who yearn to put words to paper (okay, computer) but really don’t know where to begin. Since I had to learn it the hard, painful way, I’d like to save some of you the stress and heartache.
Last week, we talked about your “Big Idea” and how it can translate into an overall theme. You can read it here:
This week, we’re going to talk about characters. For me, a book needs great characters. If I care about the characters, I’ll overlook poor plot every time. I want a character who makes me fall in love with them. I want to care desperately about what happens to them.
Some people start writing and know very little about their characters. Some fill out detailed character sheets before they write a word. Where do I fit? Comfortably in the middle. You need to know enough about your character to get going, but you don’t need to know every freakin’ thing that ever happened to them in their childhood including if they preferred X-Files to Smurfs.
Personally, I liked X-files…
Start with your character’s name, age, and physical characteristics. Then add in their background. Did they grow up, rich, middle class, or poor? Married parents or divorced? Were they the smart kid in school or barely skate by? Did they play sports?
Now, how did this background shape their worldview? I had a character whose parents were drifters who rarely worked. The family often lived out of their car and didn’t always have enough to eat. It made her a workaholic who felt money and security was the key to happiness. Maybe your character grew up in a comfortable, middle class family out of Leave it to Beaver. Would this make them naive? Maybe restless?
What is their greatest fear? For Casey, my character above, being poor and hungry was her greatest fear.
What is their greatest desire? Casey wanted security and love, something in short supply in her childhood.
This is a pretty good start. If your character is a “bad guy/girl”, these items are still important. Make your villains three dimensional by not making them all bad. A friend of mine has a saying, “Even Hitler love his dog.” Crude, but it makes a point. Your villain will be less believable if he’s all evil.
Hey, I know. No one enjoys writing an evil guy more than I do. Let’s face it. The bad guys can be really fun to write. But, they’ll seem less cartoonish if there’s a speck of humanity in them. Maybe the bad guy loves his mother or his kids. Maybe the bad girl is wreaking havoc for revenge of someone she loved.
Oh, and your heroes and heroines. Don’t make ’em so perfect we want to take a sledge hammer to them. (See villain’s motivation above) Maybe they have a temper? Maybe they’re insecure or they’re an adrenaline junkie scaring the you know what out of their loved ones? Personally, I love a wounded hero. Someone who is damaged by life, but finds the courage and the love to move on with their life.
So, you now you know your characters? Write it down. Trust me. You’re going to be writing your story and come to a fork in the road. Would my character do this… or that? Or perhaps you have the dreaded “writer’s block”? Maybe you’re trying to get your characters to do something they simply don’t want to do. Let the character talk to you. As you find out more about your character, make a note. I just finished writing a book where one of the heroes grew up poor with a single mother but got a scholarship to Harvard. I knew he wasn’t ashamed of being poor but when I typed the line “Being poor was the best thing that ever happened to me”… Heck, even I was surprised.
Okay, got your characters? Next time, we’ll talk about character arcs. In other words, how will your character grow and change during your story.
Thanks for reading this! Happy Writing!!