Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Novel Work – Excuse Me, Do I Know You?

In honor of this being NaNo month and all (no, I’m not doing it this year, but keep it between us, okay?) I thought a little novel work would be appropriate for all the editing that will be done next month. And what good is a great plot without awesome characters.  

Don’t you just love great characters? When I read a story with brilliantly written characters, it’s like I’m part of their world, swept away for a few moments from my own. Their problems become fascinating, their pain grips me, and their happiness lightens my heart. I remember them long after I’ve finished reading. Long enough in fact, to buy the next book that very same author writes.
As an author, wouldn’t you like to be able to write characters that are able to capture readers with seemingly little or no effort? Me too. So much so in fact, I find myself constantly reading books on the subject. And here are a few tips I’ve picked up along the way.

1. Know Your Characters
This is number one because to me, it’s the most important. This sounds simple doesn’t it? Everyone gets to know their characters in different ways. Whether you use a character bio, astrological charts, or a check list, you as the author, need to know your characters past. While this may not transfer in so many words to the reader, it will show in the way your character responds to other characters, events, stressful circumstances, and sexual situations.

If you think about the lives of real people, everyone has faced challenges that shape who they are, and who they become. It’s no different for your imaginary people.

2. Know Their Place in the Story
What I mean by this is that each character has a role to play. Whether its hero, heroine, villain, secondary, or just a walk on, you must understand how they will interact with other characters. This will serve as a guide to how well you must know them, and enable you bring forth certain aspects of their personality that will not only move the story forward, but will also resonate with readers.

3. Understand Their Motivation
What do your characters want? Again, this is for you the author. You must have a clear idea what your characters goal is, in order to get it across to your reader in an entertaining manner. This is where you can really get into the deep point-of-view of your character, and pull the reader into the story. This is where reader empathy for characters begins. If the goal is not clear, your character could end up wandering around lost in the desert, and your reader will be lost. So lost in fact, that they try another author the next time.

4. Conflict, Conflict, Conflict
If you know your characters personalities well enough, and their motivation is clear enough, you’ll see immediately if your conflict is believable. If it’s not, don’t try to fake it. Readers won’t buy it. And to coin a phrase used a lot these days, let’s be clear: A Misunderstanding Is Not Conflict. Can a misunderstanding add depth to an already established conflict? Sure, if handled carefully. It can also add humor, and entertainment value. But by itself, it is boring. Totally.

One of the biggest mistakes an author can make, IMO, is to not know their characters. As your story progresses, if you find you are having trouble with your story being slow to start, sagging in the middle, or perhaps not having the emotional black moment that you’d hoped for, take a good long look at your characters. Review who they are, their place in the story, their goals, and the conflict. If you are willing to be honest with yourself, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to pinpoint the issue.
Happy Writing!


  1. Great post, Sutton, and such a timely reminder as I grapple with the last troublesome 10k of my ms! *sigh*

  2. Yes--having all the info about a fully rounded character (and keeping it in mind while writing that character) prevents those little problems where characters do something that's, erm... out of character. Every once in a while I'll read a book and toward the end, a character will do something really random. Not good!

  3. Excellent points! It does often seem as writers we get stuck at the places in a book where we just don't know what the characters would do, so taking the time to get to know the characters certainly helps the process.

  4. Thanks, Maya. The last 10k, eh? I look forward to reading your new ms!

  5. Hey,Piper. Doesn't it make you crazy? The term wallbanger comes to mind. But we can't do that with ereaders. lol!

  6. Kate!! It's great to see you out and about. Thanks for stopping by. :)

  7. Wow, an almond farm in Southern Spain. Did I say Wow. What a beautiful place to live.