Those quirky characters of ours can sometimes be hard to nail down. A character is more than just dashing good looks. Although a pair of beautiful eyes and a great smile might make a person ‘fall’ in love, without more depth, your readers won’t ‘stay’ in love with your characters. The last thing you want is for your reader to want to put down your book!
When it comes to crafting great characters, there are several ‘must haves’:
Conflict is what makes your book exciting. That’s what drives the plot forward and shows what your characters are made of. This is where your characters’ goals meet obstacles. How they handle conflict gives greater insight into your characters and makes them more real. In life, we all have to deal with difficult situations. If there is no conflict for your characters, there isn’t really much story to tell. Even in the Bible, we are told to be overcomers. How can that happen if there is nothing to overcome? It’s the same in fiction, only compacted into a hundred or so pages, give or take a few. Conflict can be simple or complex. It can be as simple as stepping into a mud puddle with a pair of favorite shoes on or as complex as dealing with disease, death, or a killer stalking your character. You can even use little conflicts to slowly build up to bigger conflicts. In my book, Violet Miracle (coming soon), Violet’s first conflict has to do with dealing with going from a tiny, country town to a huge city. From there, the conflicts go back and forth from little to big. The big ones keep growing in intensity until I hit the climax of the story where she has to decide whether or not she will let go of her fear of losing the people she loves. It’s a kind of impasse, where she can’t move forward emotionally unless she’s willing to change. As writers, conflict is your friend. Conflict and how your characters handle it will determine whether or not your story has a happy ending.
Change is what you use to show your character’s growth or ‘character arc’ over the timeline of your story. Your character must change in some way by the end of your story. It can be simply that good feeling the character gets in overcoming (or not) the bad guys. Or it can be a much more significant growth over the course of your story. In my book, Annie’s Adventures: The Chemistry Calamity ten-year old Annie grows up a little. She learns to forgive her little sister and brother and, though she faced some major and some minor setbacks, she accomplished her goal (finding that perfect Science Fair project). The timeline for your book will somewhat dictate just how much change can happen to your character. For Annie’s Adventures my timeline was just over a month. Though I packed quite a bit of conflict into that month, and had several obstacles for Annie to overcome, she’s still only ten years old. On the other hand, she learned some major life lessons by the end of the book.
Character Depth means more than simply description. Here, you want to show what makes your character tick. What’s going on inside that no one sees. This can also be a lot of fun. For instance, with your ‘bad guys’ you can have everyone think they’re wonderful, but show an inner dialog going on that can be downright disturbing. Do give description, i.e. eye color, hair color, height, weight, etc, but don’t stop there. Give your readers more. Show us your characters through interaction, and dialog. Show us your characters through other character’s eyes. Don’t just give visual descriptions, include sounds, touch, taste, and smell. Make your characters come alive. Show your readers what drives them.
Crafting unforgettable characters can be a lot of work, but also a lot of fun. Watch out though! Your characters just might get ideas of their own and gather around your bed at night, bugging you to keep writing!
In the comments below, let me know how your latest book is going. I love meeting new friends in books. My favorites are always those books that I don’t really want to end.
- Holding Out for a Hero: Characterization (christinalibooks.wordpress.com)