Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words.” – Mark Twain
Have you ever picked up a book expecting it to be the next best thing you’ve ever encountered only to discover that it is a struggle to finish the first few pages? Isn’t that a bummer? What was it that caused your eyes to skitter off the page after each failed attempt to refocus?
My short answer is too much detail and not enough action. You could be reading the most uniquely composed sentences ever strung together but no matter how well-crafted the lines are, if the author is too busy discussing the character’s exact height in millimeters, readers will simply nod off.
But I want to write a book with complex characters. Shouldn’t I know everything little thing about each one of them?
Yes, you should! However, that doesn’t mean that you need to tell the reader every little thing about them. It is absolutely imperative that you know some fundamental things about each of your characters in order to write a convincing story with action and voice that is unique to the character and also believable.
Below is a list of things each writer should know about their characters.
Appearance: Though this tops the list, it is often the least important aspect of the well-rounded character. Physical details can trip up the writer so that he is constantly writing about Sara’s sea-green eyes or Ben’s 6’7″ frame. Yes, keep note cards on your characters so that you can leave cluesabout them in the action of your story.
Here’s an example of the use of physical attributes and action (or showing, rather than telling): Ben automatically ducked under the doorframe as he and Sara stepped into the darkened bar. (This shows your reader that Ben is very tall without telling them he is 6’7” tall. He is accustomed to ducking so he doesn’t hit his head.)
Communication Style: Does Ben stammer on the letter ‘h’ and ‘l’? Is he shy or is his voice uncharacteristically high for such a tall guy? What’s his favorite phrase that drives everyone a little nuts but they love him for it? Does he curse or prefer to abstain?
Motivation: Why is this character in the story? Does he add conflict? Does he propel the story forward? If a character does not add value to the story, consider whether he is really needed. What drives him? What is he hoping to accomplish? Will he accomplish it or fail? Who antagonizes him or vice versa?
Relationships and Background: Where did Ben come from? What social circles does he walk around in? What are his friends like? Show who he is in the way he dresses and the habits he has, as well. Is he a sloppy eater or fastidious? Are his clothes wrinkled or ironed? Whom is he close to and whom does he loathe? What is his best friend like? How does his best friend influence him?
These are just a few of the things that writers need to know about their characters. While it’s not necessary to fill the readers in on every detail, it is crucial for the writer to know him or her intimately. This will help to get the story written with memorable, interesting, and deeply loved (or despised) characters.
Remember that BookFuel has many services to help the self-publishing Author! Our Editors are top-notch and can help you hammer out missing pieces that will make your story more compelling.
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