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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Making your characters count

Please welcome guest bloggers Sue Viders and Becky Martinez

Remember that line in the movie Titanic about the importance of making each day count? Well, the same might be said of the characters you create in your books. It’s important to make each of them count.

Naturally you want your main characters to be memorable and compelling. You want the reader to either identify with them, admire them or at least like them. These days so many books and movies are based on anti-heroes or people we might not like very much. But that doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate them for their skills. It is important if you are using anti-heroes to make your audience and readers care about them, difficult as that may sound. It’s tough to do when dealing with kick-ass heroines sometimes. Do we care about a heroine if we know she can beat up everyone around her, whether it be man, beast, evil robot or vampire? We know she’s probably going to win but are we going to root for her? Well, it helps if we also know that she has a soft spot for animals or if we know there is a good motivation for what she is doing. Is she trying to save the world or simply doing her deeds of strength because she can? We need to know there is a real person inside, a person with a heart of some sort, again, someone we can care about.

These days there is such a call for kick ass heroines and so many of them out there that they have almost become a cliché. It’s become refreshing to see the heroine who discovers she has inner strength to get through the struggle or who learns to stand up on her own without starting out knowing everything.

It’s also important to keep your story in mind as you craft your characters. If there is to be a lot of action, it might be fun to make your character almost reluctant to take part. Everyone roots for the reluctant hero or heroine—if they can see that the person has it in him/her to pull through. We all knew that the doctor, Jack, in Lost had it in him to be a hero, even as he struggled with alcohol or drugs, but by the time we saw him battling, we were ready for him to have something that might get the better of him. But who knew that Sawyer would turn hero or fall in love and be ready for a settled life? What a wonderful turn in the ongoing saga of Lost! And Kate was a wonderful example of a woman who was both clever, conniving and yet caring. She had killed to save her mother and we knew she was capable of being ruthless, but we also knew she had a heart.

Think of unique ways to show your characters in a different frame from what is required of them in your main story and look for ways to make them human. And if they start out with too much humanity, then throw the fate of the world at them and make them have to get through the trials to succeed and survive. Poor little Frodo and his Hobbit friends were the unlikeliest of heroes, but we were rooting for the little guys all the way. We knew Aragorn was a Ranger so he had the necessary bravery and fighting skills, but he became more human and even kingly as we watched him being gentle and in love.

Lord of the Rings is another good example of fully developing those extra characters who may not be the hero or heroine but play an important role in your story. Don’t forget those secondary players in your work. They should be well developed without overwhelming your lead characters. And they need to be unique too. Avoid making them simply stereotypes. Think of the books you’ve read or the movies you’ve seen where you have the outspoken best friend or the mother who is pushing the heroine to get married and have babies so she can be a grandmother. These have been done over and over. Maybe it would be fun to have the mother who doesn’t want grandchildren because she wants to play. Or how about the best friend who is quietly at the heroine’s right arm, ready to help out in a rock-solid way?

Just like the main character, you should work at making your secondary characters fit the story and the circumstances. Samwise was Frodo’s friend and willing to do anything to help him. He was going to stay by his side, no matter what. We enjoyed the antics and competition of Gimli and Legolas, but we knew they were going to be tough warriors when the going got serious.

The same is true for villains. Hannibal Lector elevated the role of secondary character villain to a whole new level and while he was most noticed in Silence of the Lambs, he was eerily creepy from his first appearance in the novel, The Red Dragon. Here was a villain to be feared and yet who was so fascinating you wanted to know more about him.

So, play with your characters, learn to enjoy them—all of them, even the villains. Remember what you write today you can change tomorrow so don’t be afraid to try different ideas with your characters. Look for ways to make them stronger, to make them more human and to make them unique. They’re your characters so you can do whatever you want with them. Let your characters out. Make them work for their place in your books.


Sue Viders is the author of more than 20 books, numerous articles and columns for both artists and writers. Her writing book Heroes and Heroines, Sixteen Master Archetypes, is used in many college and university writing courses. Her latest book, 10 Steps to Creating Memorable Characters is gaining use as a practical workbook for writers who want to develop their characters.

She is a practicing artist, seminar leader, and educator with on-line classes both for writers and artists. Her latest product for writers is Deal a Story; an interactive card game consisting of 101 cards and six sections and is based on her Heroes and Heroines book.

Becky Martinez is an award-winning former broadcast journalist and published author. Her latest book, Deadly Messages was published by The Wild Rose Press in February 2010. Her first romance novel, Love on Deck, was an Aspen Gold finalist as was Deadly Messages. She has had several short stories published and contributed a short story to The Trouble with Romance, an anthology that was a 2007 New Mexico Book Award finalist.

She was also one of the co-authors of Ten Steps to Creating Memorable Characters, a workbook for writers. She is currently working on a gothic romantic suspense and a follow up book to Deadly Messages.

Creating Memorable Characters, presented by Sue Viders and Becky Martinez, runs from January 31, 2011 through February 27, 2011

1 comment:

Maeve said...

Excellent post! Sometimes it's difficult to remember to include a few flaws in our characters. After all, if they're too perfect - they might end up being despised. Thanks for all the great examples.