Wordsmith Wednesday–Spice Up Your Characters!

Spices from Gujarat

Image by Sudhamshu via Flickr

No matter the genre you write, you want to create compelling characters. These are the companions that will accompany your reader on the journey throughout your novel or story, and if they lack interest or personality, who will want them as travel companions?

In previous posts, we spoke about character motivation, emotional expression, relationships, point of view, personality types, and the importance of avoiding stereotypes. Today, let’s review some of these and take a look at a few more spices you can throw in the mix to (as Emeril would say) kick it up a notch.

  • Don’t allow your characters to become predictable. Surprise your reader by having your introverted protagonist take center stage at a party. Allow your victim-martyr to throw a temper tantrum. Make your malleable co-dependent cling stubbornly to her opinion or stand firm for a cause she believes in.
  • Give your character a deep, dark secret. A secret will add dimension to one or more of your major characters. How about a hidden problem with addiction or a history of childhood sexual, emotional or physical abuse. Maybe an illicit liaison or desire, an unacknowledged sin or a pattern of self-deception will add complexity. Does your hero have an unmet desire or obsession? Any of these will influence his behavior in a number of ways and make the reader want to discover more.
  • Allow her to be vulnerable. Focus in on a fear or weakness with which your reader can identify and that may get in the way of your characters attaining their goals. Create empathy and identification.
  • Give them an enemy. You don’t want everyone in the story to be supportive of your protagonists on their road to achieving what they want. How about a boss who stands in the way of her success? A girlfriend who sabotages her? A lover who criticizes or demeans? Make sure there are some bumps on the road to success.
  • Identify major, secondary and minor characters and proceed accordingly. Spend more time and effort on those who play central roles in your work, but don’t neglect the nosy neighbor, the first wife or the usual suspect who turns out to be a false lead.

These are just a handful of devices to make your characters more textured and appealing to those who will travel with them. I find it helpful to harvest personality characteristics from people I’ve known throughout my lifetime, being careful, of course, to keep them unidentifiable.

I invite you to take a look at some of the older posts in Wordsmith Wednesday that deal with characterization. I believe that writing complex, compelling characters is one of the most important keys to successful fiction.Have fun with the people you create!

Wordsmith Wednesday–10 Suggestions to Improve your Fiction Writing

Underwood Typewriter

Image via Wikipedia

I’m in a bullet point mood. That is to say, I feel like posting a list of short, unrelated tidbits that aim to help you improve your writing. Some, I’ve already mentioned. Others are new but don’t need a thesis.

  • To create a bit of drama in the relationships of your fictional characters, triangulate. Add a third party to a friendship or love relationship…someone who threatens to disturb the balance.
  • Within the first few pages of your novel (or first few paragraphs of your short story) create a destabilizing event–something that creates an obstacle to the goals of your protagonist.
  • Take two steps forward and one step backward. The path to resolution should be full of obstacles. As the story advances, allow your hero to solve a problem, but introduce another one in its wake. Keep the reader on edge and turning pages.
  • Embrace realism. We ask our readers to suspend disbelief, but there must be a thread of truth in what you write, even if you write sci-fi or fantasy. Your audience should be able to say, “If we were invaded by Martians, it is not improbable that humans would react like….”
  • Create multidimensional scenes. Don’t relay solely on one sense to describe a setting. What does it look like? Smell like? Sound like. The more you are able to engage the readers senses, the better able will you be to hurl them into the story.
  • Read aloud. Whether you edit/revise as you go along or as one unit (or both, like I do) be sure to read your manuscript aloud. You will catch typos, stilted dialogue, echos, or odd syntax when you go through that exercise. If you can find someone to read with you, especially portions of dialogue, all the better.
  • Be objective. If you use a familiar setting, for example, make sure your descriptions are clear to the reader. You may be able to envision the details of a scene but have you written it so that anyone can picture the progression of the action?
  • Connect with your reader. Identify the demographics of your target audience and write to them. Use appropriate language for age, gender, education level etc.
  • Allow a theme to emerge from your story–don’t force the story to fit the theme.
  • And, finally, whenever possible, substitute an active verb for an adverb or adjective.

I hope that you will find one or more of these suggestions helpful to you in your writing and revision process. I would love any feedback you have to offer. Above all, enjoy what you do!