Wednesday, October 1, 2014

I SPY: Creating Great Characters (People)


Join the authors and friends of *Not Your Usual Suspects* for an occasional series of posts about their world of reading, writing and publishing. Short and sweet, hopefully both informative and entertaining - join us at I-Spy to find out the how's and why's of what we do. *TODAY'S POST:* Creating Great Characters (People) by Julie Moffett.

Today I get to talk about one of my favorite subjects, creating great characters. Characters are the most important part of your story. Everything revolves around them. In fact, they are so important, I'm going to give you a big secret right up front...creating memorable, unforgettable characters will make just about anyone's novel (or screenplay) publishable. But you can't just create characters, you must create people. Real, relatable, lovable, and yes, even despicable people.

Now, here's a little quiz to test your character knowledge. How many of the following fictional characters do you recognize? Can you name the book or movie they come from?

1.) Han Solo
2.) Neo
3.) Scarlett O'Hara
4.) Harry Potter
5.) Indiana Jones
6.) Marty McFly
7.) Voldemort
8.) Captain Jack Sparrow
9.) Sherlock Holmes
10.) Romeo and Juliet

I bet you knew most, if not all, of them. That's because these are a few examples of characters who came alive. They became people. All ten of them all had unique quirks, flaws, frustrations and joys. Some were good, some were evil, and the rest were somewhere in between. They were absolutely different and yet absolutely relatable to us. 

Characters are the centerpiece, the foundation, of your story. The action, the plot, the dialogue all begins and ends with your characters. They are the most important part of your story. Therefore, your #1 job as a writer is to establish early reader identification with the characters in your novel. You must make your readers care about your characters and become emotionally invested in their success or failure. In turn, your characters must care about something in order to drive the plot. Now, here's a tip: if you have two major characters who are passionate about opposing things, you have created instant conflict. That's a good thing!


Because I'm a Star Wars geek, I'm going to use Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia and Han Solo as character examples. Hopefully, you're familiar with the basic plot. Han Solo cared about money, while Princess Leia and Luke cared about freeing people from an evil empire. Opposing goals = character conflict, even among the good guys. Luke's and Leia's goal drives the plot, while Han remains as an obstacle of sorts. Han doesn't care about oppression, he's all about the cash. But Han is a critical figure, nonetheless, because by the end of the story HE becomes changed by the plot. He grows, develops, does the wrong thing, the right thing, and sometimes nothing. He makes mistakes, he tries to fix them. He lives. He is a person. Luke, the hero, represents us, the every man/woman. He cares about his family, about goodness, about doing the right thing. We can relate (or at least aspire) to that noble goal, so we can identify with his goal. That makes us feel as if we are part of the story. Luke has become more than just a character, he has become a person.


The best characters have flaws, quirks and are relatable in one way or the other. No person (or character) should be perfect. Characters that are portrayed as perfect are not considered relatable. So, as you sit down to pen your story (or edit one already written), ask yourself, what do my characters care the most about? What makes them real? Relatable? What makes them people? Once you are able to craft an answer, make sure their words and actions align to their uniqueness. Voila! You've created great characters.




FUTURE POSTS will cover:
Kindlegraph / the art of research / writing male/male romance / rejection and writer's block / building suspense / writing love scenes / anti-piracy strategies / audio books / interviews with editors and agents / using Calibre.
We welcome everyone's constructive comments and suggestions!


4 comments:

Anne Marie Becker said...

Great I SPY post, Julie! "But you can't just create characters, you must create people." So true. Great advice.

Rita said...

Julie! This is wonderful. My characters become my friends and for me they never stop growing. The past few months I've been on a reading tear. I carefull picked the books I wanted to read and all were good. Some were GREAT! The difference? The characters. I woke up some mornings thinking about those fictional characters. Wondering what they were doing.

Marcelle Dubé said...

Great post, Julie. You're absolutely right--great story is about character, character, character.

Julie Moffett said...

Thanks everyone! Glad you enjoyed the column! :)