Character Craft

The Creative Penn is a website with a wealth of helpful stuff that every writer should take a tiptoe through from time to time.  There are articles, podcasts, links, books, downloads, newsletters…well, like I said, a wealth.  If you can’t find something there that’s useful to you, you already know everything.  I wish I was in that boat, but while dog-paddling around in the turbulent waters of wishfulness, I do find a log to cling to here and there.  Logs abound at the Creative Penn.

Here’s a great article from a guest writer who ties a lot of story aspects together while discussing characters.  Some writers focus their stories around character, and some around plot, but neither will get and keep audiences without compelling characters who have believable motivations and interesting conflicts that propel the narrative convincingly.

There are a lot of aspects that some people just don’t think about.  David Griffin Brown is a writer and editor who has a deep understanding of the factors you have to bring into balance within your stories to keep readers’ attention and give them satisfaction.  Give it a look and a ponder or two.

Writing Tips: Creating Memorable Characters

August 2, 2019

When we read, we may love well-plotted books, but what we are connecting with is the people involved in those plots. In other words, the characters. In this post, David Griffin Brown offers five ways to make your characters more compelling.

Fiction editors encounter manuscripts at all stages of development. A typical issue we see in early drafts is where one narrative element is given more attention than another.

For example, with works of historical fiction, it’s common for writers to showcase their research at the expense of plot and character. On the other hand, with a character piece, the plot often drags in the second act. And in high-paced, sharply plotted thrillers, characterization can lag behind plot development.

That being said, most manuscripts will benefit from close attention to character conflict, motivation, and relationships. But first and foremost, it’s important to let your characters act, react, and interact.

Drop hints and clues about personality and underlying emotion, put your characters on a stage, and let your intuitive readers get to know them.

Emotions in exposition

Let’s start with the basics. It’s a maxim that all writers have heard, but many have yet to master:

Show, don’t tell.

Imagine your best friend Jack, with a straight face, tells you: I’m really sad right now. Now imagine Jack doesn’t say anything, but instead bursts into tears the moment he sees you. The second scenario is bound to evoke a stronger emotional reaction.

What if it’s someone else updating you on whatever Jack is going through? The emotional distance in this case is even greater. Of course you still feel for Jack, you are still concerned for his wellbeing, but your personal emotional involvement will be greater when you observe Jack’s sadness through his actions, expression, and body language.

This is a simplification, but the concept is critical to effective characterization. When a narrator states how a character feels, the emotional impact is minimized. Even more, emotions in exposition prevent readers from getting to know the character on their own terms.

You could tell me all about your best friend Jack, but until I meet him myself, I won’t be able to grasp the essence of his energy and personality.

Where fiction meets real life

We come to love and despise people in our lives because we have spent time observing them, interacting with them, and then coming to conclusions about who they are and what motivates them.

The same is true in fiction. When a narrator states who a character is, what they want, and what they think about a particular issue, readers are not able to observe and come to their own conclusions. This means a lost opportunity for readers to bond with the character.

Consider the difference between a scene with a young man up all night studying for an exam versus a statement in exposition that he is very studious and hardworking. The statement can be taken as narrative truth, but it doesn’t get you any closer to the character.

However, when you observe the late-night cramming session, you can imagine yourself in that seat, pouring over those notes. This connects you to the character’s experience.

Always aim to show your characters’ emotions and personality through their actions, interactions, and choices. Let your intuitive readers observe, gather clues, and make their own judgments. Your story’s immersion and sentimental appeal will be all the stronger for it.

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