September 13

10 Tips to Craft Awesome Characters

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What Great Minds Say

As an author, I am always on the hunt for solid writing advice and inspiration from other authors I admire. One of the topics I enjoy reading about the most is crafting characters who are believable, multi-dimensional, and endearing. Like Katniss from The Hunger Games or Harry Potter. With that in mind, here is some great writing advice on character development from 10 authors who know what they’re talking about.

“Introduce your main characters and themes in the first third of your novel. If you are writing a plot-driven genre novel make sure all your major themes/plot elements are introduced in the first third, which you can call the introduction. Develop your themes and characters in your second third, the development. Resolve your themes, mysteries and so on in the final third, the resolution.” — Michael Moorcock (from “Ten Rules for Writing Fiction (Part Two)”)

“Define a character first through action, second through dialog and description, never through explanation. A character should be primarily defined by the choices he makes, and the actions he takes. How does he respond to violence? How does he respond to love? Secondly, a character must be vividly but deftly described through his speech, and through the initial view you give the reader. Never stop to explain who a character is when we can watch him in action and decide for ourselves.” — Rick Riordan (from “Advice for Writers”)

Katniss Everdeen has a clear motivation that drives her throughout the Hunger Games series.
Katniss Everdeen has a clear motivation that drives her throughout the Hunger Games series.

“Characters want things. They need things. They are motivated by these desires and requirements and they spend an entire story trying to fulfill them. That’s one of the base level components of a story: a character acts in service to his motivations but obstacles (frequently other characters) stand in his way. We need to know what impels a character. What are her motives? If we don’t know or cannot parse those motivations, her role in the story is alien to us.” — Chuck Wendig (from “25 Things A Great Character Needs”)

“Don’t overcrowd the narrative. Characters should be individualised, but functional – like figures in a painting. Think of Hieronymus Bosch’s Christ Mocked, in which a patiently suffering Jesus is closely surrounded by four threatening men. Each of the characters is unique, and yet each represents a type; and collectively they form a narrative that is all the more powerful for being so tightly and so economically constructed.” — Sarah Waters (from “Ten Rules for Writing Fiction (Part Two)”)

The Harry Potter series is packed with complex, relatable characters.
The Harry Potter series is packed with complex, relatable characters.

“[A]…lot of inventing people, and having them take on a life of their own, is making yourself curious about them. And one thing that can make you wonder about someone is their personal contradictions — in real life, as well as fiction. When you meet a Vegan who wears leather, you want to know more about why they refuse to eat animal products but they wear animal skins. Or if you meet a Buddhist sadist, that’s automatically fascinating. Those are somewhat extreme examples, but everybody has contradictions between their beliefs and actions, or between two different ideas they subscribe to.” — Charlie Jane Anders (from “10 Tips and Tricks for Creating Memorable Characters”)

“Every sentence must do one of two things-reveal character or advance the action.” — Kurt Vonnegut (from “57 Tips for Writers, from Writers”)

Hazel makes mistakes, but you never doubt she will follow her heart, however difficult that may be.
Hazel makes mistakes, but you never doubt she will follow her heart, however difficult that may be. (Photo from www.quotesgram.com/hazel-grace-lancaster-quotes)

“We now come to what is, perhaps, the most important point.
Once you really know the characters, let them write the story. Place the characters into the setting of the story, and let them direct the flow. Remember this: Great characters drive the plot. Not the other way around.” — Daniel Arenson (from “Creating Great Characters”)

“Respect the way characters may change once they’ve got 50 pages of life in them. Revisit your plan at this stage and see whether certain things have to be altered to take account of these changes.” — Rose Tremain (from “Ten Rules for Writing Fiction (Part Two)”)

Madeline from Nicola Yoon's "Everything, Everything" knows that she should resist her attraction to Olly. Her push and pull between wanting something forbidden and going after it whatever the cost is what makes her a complex character. (Photo from: http://www.mrskendall.com/2015/06/everything-everything-by-nicola-yoon.html)
Madeline from Nicola Yoon’s “Everything, Everything” knows that she should resist her attraction to Olly. Her push and pull between wanting something forbidden and going after it whatever the cost is what makes her a complex character. (Photo from: http://www.mrskendall.com/2015/06/everything-everything-by-nicola-yoon.html)

What I think we all do is aim for interesting characters. I want a character to fascinate me, whether I sympathize with them emotionally or not. So here’s my little formula for creating an interesting character–and it happens to be a pretty good emotional cheat for making a sympathetic one as well. It also has five helpful points, and everyone knows bullet points mean it’s the truth.

Take one (1) unformed character, be they protagonist, antagonist, comic relief, or BFF.

  • Give them something to want.
  • Give them something to hide.
  • Give them something to fear.
  • Give them something to obsess over.
  • Then hurt them.”

Cat Valente (from “Operating Narrative Machinery: Thoughts on Writing Pt 3”)

Finally, I’ll add my own contribution, as one dimensional characters are my pet peeve in an otherwise good story!

“Like a good wine, characters need to be opened up and allowed to breathe in order to become robust, complex and nuanced.”

— Norma Hinkens (check out the cast of characters I created for The Undergrounders Series. Download book one free here!)

the-undergrounders-series-books-1-3-kindle


Tags

characters, Indie Author, Writer


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