Writers may feel that they are stronger in one of two areas: either being plot-driven or character-driven in their craft. While I love a strong plot-driven story, I think that having memorable characters makes a book stand out in the mind more.
Pop quiz- think of a book you love. Is it because of the amazing plot, or is it a character that’s unforgettable?
Why I Really Do What I Do (and Why It Matters to You)
Let’s try a little experiment. What comes to mind when I say, “It’s time to edit your story”?
For many writers, the notion of editing conjures an unwelcome memory of brutal critique or derision—a time you offered your story to a peer or mentor only to be shot down.
Maybe for you, it was a stern English teacher in grade school who filled your papers with inky red hieroglyphics. Or perhaps that college critique group who ripped your idea to shreds and laughed about it—right in front of you. Maybe you’re visualizing the relative who scorned your dream of becoming a writer and told you to find “real” aspirations instead.
Or perhaps—if you’re lucky—you don’t have any specific negative memories of critique; there’s just a general tightening in your midsection at the thought of sending your story child off to a total stranger who probably collects red pens and blogs about comma abuse.
Whatever the source of your apprehension, I get it. Writing stories—even fictional ones—is a deeply personal endeavor, and there’s something terrifying about revealing your creation to another human being, especially when that human’s job (and possibly joy in life) seems to be identifying all of your flaws and weaknesses.
What do you want? No, really…what do you want? If you’re like me, sometimes that’s not the easiest question to answer. I have lots of wants vying for my attention. They barge into the forefront of my mind as soon as I wake up, each of them screaming, “me first, me first!” Like a classroom full of unruly kindergartners, I try to get them to sit down and be quiet. Then, with each of their hands raised in the air, I call on them one at a time. That’s on a good day. On bad days, I get overrun and just want to hide in my bed until they all go away. Each of us struggle with life’s legion demands and desires.I think this is why I like hurricanes.
There are many ways that characters come to you. Sometimes the character’s voice might show up in your head. The character might come after your setting. Other times, they might show up as you are writing. There’s no wrong way to do it, but how do you create characters that seem real?
In literature, the Reckless Hero is someone who jumps into the fray with abandon (and often without a clear plan of action). The reckless hero doesn’t mind picking things up as they go along, but as a result, they may find themselves having to loop around or in a spot of trouble because they’re not always the best at listening to the warnings or advice of others.
One of my favorite Reckless Heroes is Rachel from C.J. Redwine’s Defiance Trilogy. She’s smart, she’s capable, she’s deadly, but her impulsive nature constantly lands her (and others around her) in hot water. Other favorite Reckless Heroes include Tanwen from Lindsay Franklin’s The Weaver Trilogy and Carswell Thorne from Melissa Meyer’s The Lunar Chronicles. One of the things I admire most about the reckless hero is that they are fully committed to their cause—even if they’re working from questionable motives.
In fiction, the Reluctant Hero is a protagonist who has to be jolted or dragged out of their comfort zone (even if it’s an unhealthy/unsafe one) at the beginning of their story. And even then, it takes them a while to fully commit to the journey. It doesn’t matter that they weren’t fully satisfied with where they were in life when we first meet them. True, they might not be happy being stuck where they are, but ordinary, predictable days are far safer than venturing out into the unknown where there is the risk of failure or even worse…success.
When I think about favorite characters who fall into this category, Bilbo and Frodo Baggins from The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, El from Sara Ella’s Unblemished trilogy, Nym from Mary Weber’s Storm Siren trilogy, and Fawkes from Nadine Brandes’ Fawkes immediately come to mind. Each of them start out reluctantly, but through the course of their story learn to face their fears, recognize their strengths, and overcome the seemingly insurmountable odds stacked against them.
I’ve been writing and telling stories in some form or other for most of my life. Like most, it began with my make-believes as a child. And then it slowly grew from there. But it wasn’t until I was midway through my junior year of college I began to realize that we don’t all have to grow up to become doctors and astronauts and future presidents. We could also grow up to write (and publish) stories of our own.
That realization came to me 19-years ago. Since then I’ve published a few short stories and several articles, and I’ve gone on to build a small freelance editing career working with both fiction and nonfiction writers that I love. But my own writing journey hasn’t been the smooth path I’d first envisioned it might be. It’s been filled with twists, turns, dead-ends, and obstacles that have often left me feeling lost and ready to give up
Pen Friends ~ We are starting a series of posts on tips and how to write each genre- Fantasy, Contemporary, Sci-fi, Action-Adventure, and more. This Month is all about WRITING SCI-FI!
First post of the Writing Sci-fi series:
Where do you start when you want to write a science fiction story? Just as with any story, you need to have an idea of your plot, your characters, their world and the struggle they’re going to face.
If you begin with a basic plot in mind, how are you going to structure your story? Is it going to be a straightforward and linear, or will you use frequent flashbacks?
You could insert official reports or journal entries to open a window into other perspectives. Or you could even jump around in the timeline – though this is tricky to keep track of – unless there’s a very plot-specific reason for it, I would caution against this.
Or perhaps you like to start with at your characters, and let the majority of the plot evolve with them. Continue reading →
Hold on a moment while I put on my nerd cap, to talk about a fabulous series called My Hero Academia, by Kouhei Horikoshi. For those totally oblivious to anime (and manga – the written comic form of popular Japanese story-telling), My Hero Academia is one of the top hits currently being published and animated for TV. (check Amazon Prime and Hulu)
A short synopsis:Izuku lives in a world where 80% of the population has been born with a Quick – think X-Men, but even zanier. Unfortunately for Izuku, who longs to be a professional hero, he’s Quirk-less, just a normal kid – which isn’t so normal anymore. Just when his dreams are in danger of being crushed by bullies and reality, he has an encounter with the #1 Hero of the age, All Might, and gets the chance to become the next greatest hero himself.
As much as I want to plug the series (go watch it! Now!) I actually want to touch on two characters and two themes, that I see running through Horikoshi’s story. Continue reading →
If one were to bring up Mrs. Hudson in conversation, what would you presume we were talking about?
I hope you’d think of Sherlock Holmes, since there are very view (perhaps no) interpretations of Sherlock Holmes that fail to include Mrs. Hudson. Yet most of the time she is not vital to the plot. So what role does she play as a side character?
We’re going to look at Mrs. Hudson and other “famous” minor characters to find the reasons why side & minor characters are important to your story. Continue reading →