Posted in News on July 10, 2012
What is it that makes engaging, memorable characters? Have you studied your favorites and found out why and how you can do the same?
This aspect of fiction is probably my favorite part of the process but one of the most difficult to try and write about since so much of the magic happens in our subconscious and as the story unfolds and our characters truly surprise us.
#1: I’d say that the element of surprise is where they first stand on their own, our creations yes, yet something greater. And it pays to let them do their thing, the shocking or touching or savage or forgiving thing we didn’t expect, and to avoid censoring whatever they do that seems so different than we imagined them being.
When I created my character Red Piccirilli he surprised me a number of times that totally took the story out of my hands and at times pissed me off because I thought I should trust me, not him. Bad move, Lee. Bad move. In the first book (Before Leonora Wakes) that starts off the Division Mythos he’s a simple, somewhat lonely twelve-year-old with an imaginary friend and a streak for adventure. He surprised me in that first book by not being your typical self-centered teen. But then the second book (Within This Garden Weeping) came along and he did something horrible that cost him a lot of respect in the eyes of his first crush. I wanted to see him forgiven but he’s conflicted, one moment sorry for what he did, the next justifying it. I hurt for him because I know what it’s like to try and protect someone and have it backfire on you. And Red doesn’t make half-hearted choices. The poor kid. Then in the third and current serial novel, The Collected Songs of Sonnelion (which you can read Free for another ten weeks or so,) Red surprised me again, sometimes with his trust even though he’s been through hell and shouldn’t have any trust left, and again he makes some choices that backfire and have grave consequences, all of this leading up to who he is in the first John McDonnell novel (Nursery Rhymes 4 Dead Children) when Red’s an old recluse living above a dusty hardware store. Phew. It’s hard to explain the changes and surprises without giving anything away so I guess I can only hint at them.
#2: Another thing that I see besides memorable characters who surprise is ones who are determined. Passive protagonists are lame and they’re boring. Pick up any well-read, popular novel and see how many passive leads occupy the course of three, or four, or five hundred pages. So, a determined character creates tension and propulsion. Story is made up of a character in a situation who makes choices and faces advancement or consequences from those decisions. Build a determined character. Someone who not only wants something (hell, anything) but needs it, feels like they’ll die without it even if everybody else thinks they’re crazy to feel that way.
What else creates memorable and engaging characters?
#3: Their unique view of the world they live in. When someone has strong feelings about where they come from in to comparison to where they are now it adds a lot of texture. When they have a unique view of themselves in comparison to who they’ve been and who they want to be it creates tension.
#4: An interesting back story can help. What truly interesting things have happened to your main character in his or her past? Not the mundane, but the life shaping, the soul-conditioning.
#5: Another thing that helps in creating engaging and memorable characters is thinking about all the of the mental illnesses most of us have (I’m certain a lot of people, myself included, are probably just undiagnosed.) What type of unbalance do they have and how does that affect their choices and consequences in the present story?
#6: Play up your character’s flaws because a story is all about growing. Some flaws may be beyond their desire, energy or own strength to fix, but if they’re aware of it and trying, it makes all the difference in earning a readers sympathy and respect. Sometimes a character will also view some trait as a flaw that others see as a strength, so it’s about perspective as well.
Once you learn to trust your characters and let them be themselves it’ll make your novel that much better.
Make sure you check out my FREE serial novel while it’s still free and tell everybody you know who enjoys dark fiction!
Also snag a collectible hardcover of my newest novella WHEN WE JOIN JESUS IN HELL before they sell out!
All right, gotta get back to work on this new novel The Lesser People. Hope everybody has a great week!