So, you want to write a book. We have been tackling the five Ws and the H … that’s What, When, Where, Why. Who, and How. We’ve delved into the What, When, Where and Why. Today we’ll discuss the final W — Who. They are all interconnected.

In short, Who are the characters. We’ve outlined {at least to ourselves} the storyline (why) and placed our story (what) in a specific time and place (when and where). Now it’s time to bring the story to life.

We do that through the characters and character development. Its the lynch pin that ties all the elements together. The role of the main characters are to bring the story to life. Arguably creating your characters may be the single most important part of novel writing. Your characters have to give your readers a reason to turn the page and see what happens next. If they don’t, well, your readers won’t turn the page. They will close the book and your great American novel sits on the shelf.

Since no one lives in a vacuum — not even fictional characters in a book — they need a supporting cast to serve as foils or friends, active or inactive participants in the life of your main character.

Your role as an author is to make the audience care about your characters. You develop them. Your words bring them to life.

I read a good explanation once. “Put a character the reader has no strong feelings about — or, worse, doesn’t know at all — on a high window ledge, and they won’t be  bothered if they jump or not. Make the character one  they care about, just like they care about people in the real world, and they won’t be able to put the novel down.”

There is a lot of discussion about what it more important in a novel — plot or characters. In my mind, both are equally important. Your characters don’t grow without the plot, but the plot doesn’t move forward without the characters. Without characters you have no action, and without action you have no characters. The two blend together, complementing each other. You have to have compelling plots and well-rounded characters.

So, how do you develop characters?

Make the characters likeable. Whatever it is that draws you to people in real life, give your fictional characters those same traits.

Make them good at what they do. As an example, how would you feel about James Bond if he failed every mission and the baddies always won? There has to be something about your character that allows them to win in the end. The only exception might be comedies where the character is totally inept (think Maxwell Smart) who succeeds because the character excels in their ineptitude!

Make the characters charismatic. There needs to be something about their personality that draws other characters in. That will also draw your readers in.

Make them dynamic. They must be doers, not passive bystanders in their own story. Make them act (rather than react) and get your audience rooting for them.

Make the characters suffer. The events of the novel (the plot) will throw plenty of obstacles in the leading character’s path, so there will already be plenty of opportunities for the character to elicit sympathy from your readers. It doesn’t always have to be physical; it can be emotional as well.

Concentrate on your main character. You as author have to know your character completely — strengths, weaknesses, emotions, reactions, fears — so when you place them in your storyline they fit. Spend some time living with your main character {at least in your imagination}. As one writing help site noted, “you’ll get some very odd  looks if your have an actual conversation with them in public or save them a seat on the bus.” In truth, though, in your mind, that’s exactly what you need to do. The more conversations, the better developed they will become.

Next comes the supporting cast and how they interact with your main character. You could have strong supporting characters, but they have to relate to your main character in some way, again feeding into their strengths, weaknesses, emotions, reactions, fears. While they may be strong characters, remember they are support and complements for your main character.

Finally, you have your fill in characters. They might not have anything to say, but are placed in your story to help expand a scene.

Also remember, not all your characters have to be the same. In fact, the more diversity the better.

You’ll probably find your outlined script — either plot or character — evolving as you write. That’s okay. No, that’s great. Never, never, never let your plot dictate your characters, their development or their actions. The plot may advance your characters, but it shouldn’t limit them. Just like real life, you might have a particular plan in mind, only to alter how you achieve it.

You might say that’s putting characterization above plot. I say it’s rewriting the story to make it better.

THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: When you have a goal, you have to dream it, believe it, say it out loud and write it down.– Ciara

About wisdomfromafather

I'm just an ordinary guy walking along the journey of life.
This entry was posted in Readin', Ritin' & Rithmetic and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Who

  1. Someone, please, I call for aid,
    won’t someone please save me!
    It came about just as they said,
    my characters have mutinied!
    At first they were so well-behaved,
    staying in the lines of plot,
    But this one ranted, that one raved,
    and look at what I’ve got!
    The villain that we want to hate
    is channeling Sidney Carton;
    the meek one who grew up too late
    now out-heros Clint Barton.
    And the fence that I resolved to balk
    is down, and dogs have learned to talk.


  2. Ruthie Young says:

    Thanks for this. I’m trying my hand at fiction. so different than my other books. You are right, these people are real to me, I know their voices, see their faces. Your pointers are excellent! thanks again. by the way, I love your Sam.


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