We’re nearly done with editing posts . . . just a couple more. Today, we’re looking at fiction characters.
You do it, I do it—read fiction to escape. But we can only escape if the characters and storyline/plot are appealing, exciting, fascinating, curious, attention-grabbing, ________________ (you fill in the blank).
As a mystery writer, I’m inclined to stick with this genre. I love it. And I love series with characters I’m drawn to [and root for]—like Alex Delaware and Stephanie Plum.
Our characters need to be believable, real, even if they lean toward crazy and/or over the top. As such, we need to ensure we describe them well—not simply their appearances, but their likes and dislikes, actions and reactions, history and background. Characters need to come to life on the page or screen.
After the completion of the first/second draft, we should have a good idea of what makes our characters tick. If unsure, go back.
As you review each scene, contemplate the characters. Maybe there’s only one carrying the scene, providing a narrative summation of an event or incident (check out the post re Point of View). Maybe there are two, maybe more. Regardless of count, make certain that he/she/they are serving a bona-fide purpose: i.e. creating friction and tension and/or progressing the plot.
Expose your characters through dialog, actions and reactions. How they speak (nuances, accents, grammar) and function (act, work, behave) reveals a lot. Provide idiosyncrasies and habits to make them seem lifelike and not clichéd or mechanical.
Back when, I shared how I keep tabs when creating my Triple Threat Investigation Agency stories. I have a scene record and a character chart; in the latter, I literally log all details:
⇒ name ⇒ age ⇒ appearance (including scars, tatts, and so forth) ⇒ family history; background ⇒ likes and dislikes ⇒ quirks ⇒ hobbies ⇒ habits ⇒ favorite expressions ⇒ significant moments or happenings (an occurrence in one book may later affect one in another book).
A character chart is good to have on hand, especially if you’re doing a series. Variety is the spice of life, but consistency demonstrates professionalism (you don’t want Jake having grass-green eyes in one book and mud-brown in another, or having Bob love cats early on and later kicking one because he hates them).
When you’re editing and focusing on characters, consider the following:
- Are characters believable and appealing enough to have readers want to continue reading?
- Are they all motivated or driven?
- Do they have weaknesses, fears, phobias?
- Are characters different, distinctive?
- Are goals and quests evident?
- Do some have secrets and/or fervent views and opinions?
- Does something shocking or life-changing happen to change one, or more?
- Do secondary characters serving bona-fide purposes (or are they there for “decoration”)?
- Are villains despicable enough to provide tension and friction, and challenges?
- Do characters suit the genre, setting/location, and era?
Characters shouldn’t be flat or unspectacular. Like scenes, they need to be painted with vibrancy . . . they need to be watered and nurtured like plants. Readers need to see them, to feel for and with them. To accomplish this, you truly do need to know your characters—and know them well.
Remember, life is all about growing and developing. We do. So should your characters.