Writing a novel is no easy feat, yet millions of authors worldwide put pen to paper. The best storytellers grace us with riveting tales of characters that we like and sort-of-like, love to hate or love and hate, and more.
Fictional characters are pivotal story elements that have the power to move the plot in ways that can even surprise the author.
But how do we find the right words to allow our characters to walk, breathe, and live? How do we go about molding a character in such a way they can carry a novel?
In an effort to break down a character's chemical makeup, we've enlisted four fantastic authors to walk us through the in's and out's of creating three-dimensional characters.
Author of The Magical Ostrich and Otter
"When it comes to children’s writing, the way I like to bring a character to life is by giving it challenges, thoughts, and feelings that a child would have experienced. For children to identify with a character, they must, at the very least, recognize what the character is going through. They are intuitively observational and absorb a lot of the relational dynamics around them. I like to explore these dynamics by having my characters reveal their internal worlds via their interactions with one another page by page. I then add depth to the story by revealing different layers of these relationships."
Catherine C. Heywood
Author of May Leave Stars.
"Dynamic characters drive the story. They have agency whenever and however they can. This is a particular challenge for me, as I write women in historical fiction. Too often they find themselves in positions where they have little responsibility over their lives. Still, there are many ways to create opportunities to act.
While drawing up character backstories, there are two questions I always ask myself first that do more than anything to generate those opportunities to act: What does she WANT more than anything? What does she FEAR more than anything? Wants and fears are golden drivers. If you know those, you can build tension, which drives stories and readers.
Once I ask those questions, I move onto my next, which are: Who is she? And, Who does she believe herself to be? These can be distinct and are another important way for me to introduce tension. An opportunity, too, to create those characters who are so familiar."
**stay tuned next week for an EXCLUSIVE guest post by Catherine C. Heywood!**
Author of If I Were A Pair Of Maracas, Upsidedown Abbey, and others.
"Developing characters is the base for your writing because the story revolves around that character, not you. As an author, you create that person from different corners of your imagination starting with maybe a person or an idea that inspired you. My children books' characters were all based on my sons and niece but personified into their own identity. Even with the illustrations, I sent their pictures to the illustrator for her to understand at least what I am looking for physically and then filled in the gaps with words and implications.
In children's books, there’s only so much you can do with character development so it is vital that little things are evident in the illustrations themselves. For example, I never wrote straight out that Suzie (from If I were a Pair of Maracas) loved bangles and jewels but she is drawn with her colorful accessories!
For characters in my adult books, I start by compiling a collection of pictures and ideas that make up the character I had in mind. I ask myself what the character looks like, what type of personality does he have, what does he do, what does he like, and so forth, building the character and transforming him into someone who, if possible, would jump out of the page and talk to you. To make it more realistic, I add flaws to humanize the character. "Is this someone you would pass by on the street?" because, for me, I want my readers to relate to the characters and find a common ground, therefore seeing them the way I do. When I leave my writing for a few days, I can visualize my characters seeking my attention like an actual friend!"
Author of Titanloard, Fortier, and others.
"One of the most valuable pieces of feedback I ever received about character development was about their motivation. There is nothing that troubles readers more than a character who is just plain evil (wants to kill the hero, wants to get a lot of money, wants to conquer the world...etc). Think very carefully about what motivates someone to do what they do. Writing in itself isn't that different than ranting about what an annoying person you are... aware of their existence.
I still do think that the days of Good vs Evil are just about done and that the best stories not only flesh their villain to the point where they have people root for them but to make them relatable, and have readers sympathize with them. Remember: evil is not who they are but rather what they do."
Hesham N. Ali
Author of A Portrait of Memories, Fear In Flesh I & II
"After 6+ years of fiction writing, I still find myself following this same/simple pattern of writing up my characters in hopes of producing diverse possibilities of decisions for these characters to make throughout their journey. Decisions that I write, but they make.
That simple pattern I will explain in 2 similar themes:
- Theme one: Comic book superheroes and villains.
- Theme two: Professional wrestling baby faces (good guys) heels (bad guys).
Both have literally everything in common, with an additional theme that's slightly overshadowed by the good and evil. That theme being the "anti-heroes" (comic book term) or the "tweeners" (pro-wrestling term) for those who are capable of doing both good and evil, making them less predictable than your average protagonist and antagonist.
So far based on the genres that I've written, my characters (main or supporting) are very much capable of committing both deeds."
Did you enjoy today's post? Eager to learn more? Stay tuned next week for an exclusive guest post from Bestselling Author Catherine C. Heywood, as she goes into greater depth on character craft.