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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Building Characters in a Novel



What snags you into a story?

Is it the brooding, handsome rogue that carries a dangerous mystery?

Or what about the gorgeous heroine that discovers her magical ability just in time to save her family?

Could it be the grumpy, cynical old man that sits on his front porch, heckling the youngsters passing by? Of course, only later discovering that the young boy down the street reminds him of the son he once lost and teaches him to love again?

The point is -- characters keep a reader going just as much as a riveting plot and never ending obstacles and cliff hangers!

Take away point: Readers need to feel like characters are real! Let them sweat, bring on the tears, show their brilliant successes! Readers want to relate to characters. Let readers escape their own reality for a time and live in another, realistic, but fiction reality!

Building a character is probably one of my favorite parts of the story because...you build a completely unknown, unique person! These individuals come with colorful backgrounds, understandable shortcomings, and each needs to have a sense of charm!

Without certain qualities in a character, your readers are going to literally write them off, maybe even hate them and close the book!

Now, for some characters that is fine! It's okay if they are disliked and written off, the author probably intends it to be that way. Some villains are so bad, so dastardly that it's okay if no matter what they do later on in the book, the reader refuses to forgive them! Dolores Umbridge is a great example, from the Harry Potter series, she was just flat out awful! However, she was a crucial character to the story so it's okay that she had absolutely no redeeming qualities, she served her purpose.

The characters that you don't want your readers to turn away from, are of course your Protagonists! They can have faults -- in fact they should. They need to be real, the good guys can't always do the right thing. In some situations they can't always win either. Sometimes the good guy loses, aka Romeo and Juliet; tragedies just leave you stunned and aching, but riveted by the powerful story.

Antagonists, don't always have to be disliked either. In fact, the villain in my work-in-progress series is actually my favorite character! Don't believe me? It's true!

 My antagonist is an excellent character, and he most certainly is showing his faults, but something about the bad guy is...I just love it! And that is okay too!

As I said in the discussion about giving your writing a voice, Javert, from Victor Hugo's Les Miserable, is painted as the antagonist, which he is, most certainly. Javert has total redeem ability though with readers since he doesn't even realize how unforgiving, and bull- headed he is! He is simply too righteous. It's pull-your-hair-out frustrating! Yet, as a reader when Javert makes the (spoiler alert) decision to end his own life, you ache for the man, you feel his frustration and confusion and wish there was a way you could reach out to him.

The challenge for you today would be: Look at your characters! Do they stir emotions, do they have faults that readers can see and relate with. How do they handle conflict?

Take 30 minutes or an hour and choose one character. Write their story, as in their back story. Now, you don't have to include the back story in the actual writing or novel. The back story helps you, as the author, know your characters inside and out! It will help you know how to write the conflict situations throughout the story because you are going to know how their back story experiences are going to affect their present conflict! Make sense or do I sound like a lunatic? I promise if you develop the history of your characters it will make the novel writing process so much easier and it will also naturally make your characters more real to readers. This is good. This is what you want.

As you build your characters, you will soon understand why novels become so personal to an author. The characters become "real" in a sense. Authors gain a connection with their characters like they are old friends!

In a later post we will discuss how to treat that attachment authors get to their characters and how to not get so attached you don't allow anything to happen to certain characters! It's true it happens, characters are not to control the story...the writer is!

Do your homework and let me know how it goes!

Happy Writing. 

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