Fiction writers everywhere, I cannot stress this enough – one of the most important elements of your work are your characters. They are the lifeblood of your story. They are the reason readers will want to keep turning pages. They are why I’ll sometimes cry when I reach the end of a book. Sure a great plot helps, as does a unique setting, and lots of action. These are all yummy story elements, but every step of the way readers need to care about the people who inhabit the worlds you create. I don’t just want to care, I want to fall in love a little bit. While you work away at your latest masterpiece, ask yourself: are you writing characters your readers will love?
How does a reader connect with a character? Well, here’s just a few things that help create a solid character/reader bond:
Goals and dreams – Readers have a good sense of what the character desires, and what they aspire to.
Flaws & Fears – We also have a clear sense of some of their flaws, and the things that keep them up at night with worry. Maybe these flaws and fears are getting in the way of their goals and dreams?
Emotions – Let us in on what your characters are thinking and feeling. You can show us their inner landscape in all kinds of creative ways – everything from how they manage household clutter to how they react when someone steals their parking spot. Give us too much, then pare it back in your revisions.
Physical Traits – I don’t need a lengthy description, but I always like to get a sense of what the character looks like.
Connections – We want the character to connect to at least a few of the other characters in the story, and more importantly, we want to connect to them. Let us see their humanity! Even the most stoic of superheroes could have a trait or two that we can really identify with, like picking his nose in bumper-to-bumper traffic.
Mystery – Let us unravel the character a little as we go, and learn some of their secrets on the journey.
Growth – We want to see this character expand through the experience of your story. If we end up back at the same starting point with the character, we at least want to see how their inner landscape has shifted.
Some Awesome Posts About Developing Character
Chuck Wendig’s blog is a wealth of information, both on writing and how to use explicit language to drive a point home. If you don’t mind a good f-bomb now and then, you’ll love his writing tips. This post, 25 Things a Great Character Needs, is f&Cking awesome.
Kristen A. Keiffer has a beautiful blog about writing. Despite the name, She’s Novel is filled with resources for male and female writers alike. The very best part? It’s so pretty! I know, I can’t help it. Her impeccable organization, gorgeous graphics, and attention to detail have made this blog my new favorite place to visit. This post, 33 Ways to Write Stronger Characters, is a shining example of the awesome information she has available. I felt totally compelled to join her mailing list, which says a lot, because I just weeded out all of the inbox bulk I’d been wading through all summer.
If you haven’t yet listened to the Helping Writers Become Authors podcast, go ahead and have a listen. Now. I’ll wait…K.M. Weiland has created a huge resource of pithy writerly info, delivered in easy-to-digest podcast for. Each episode is a quick little nugget that will have you thinking about your manuscript from a new angle, and she’s even kind enough to provide transcripts so we can revisit her tips and advice whenever we need to. Here’s her entire ‘Characters‘ category for you to enjoy!