We often talk about creating characters, but what about those stories that feature animals as the heroes? There are several great books (and series) with animals manning the cast, while other stories include animals playing side (yet still important) roles. Whether your animals speak, your human character happens to have the ability to speak to them, or you’re writing a story with fantasy creatures, the depth and breadth of possibilities with non-human characters are endless.
For today, we’ll tackle two kinds of characters:
Recently I reviewed a few new writers manuscripts and found they were making very simple but fatal mistakes. The result was terrible: their characters left no impression on me.
When we read a book, at most we want to fall in love with the characters. Not romantic love, but form a real connection to them—at a minimum we want to identify or sympathize with the MC and other sub characters or else the story won’t matter to us.
Here are a few pointers on how to connect readers with your characters.
Think back to high school (maybe you’re still in high school, and it’s not a far stretch of the imagination). Think about that girl who’s pretty, popular, kind, smart, and to top it off, the boy you have a crush on likes her. Or think about that handsome guy: the star of his chosen sports team, who coaches and teachers alike look the other way for him, has the newest car (or an awesome restoration), and has his pick of girlfriends.
No matter how nice or kind they are, you’re sort of annoyed by them, right? Even if you happened to be their best friend and they treated you well, you’d have days where you’re just jealous and resentful of how easy life seems to be for them.
Now take that seemingly perfect human, and translate that into a character. Ugh.
How do you end up deciding this important choice? Is it from personal experience of the story you’re writing? Is it how the character presented him or herself to you? Is it how the story needs its main character to be perceived? Weak, strong, overbearing, shy… these all create ideas of gender for us, no matter which side the descriptor causes you to fall on. But how do you shake up those old pre-conceived notions without going on a crusade? (Only those who agree with you are going to read that, and will they really be reading to experience your story, or to be validated by it?)
What qualifies as a Real Boy in young adult novels?
The boy next door? The rebel? The savior?
Who or what composes the right boy protagonist? Many people have their ideas.
People argue that they are too perfect, too strong, too brave, too good looking, and whose Peeta Mellark’s love, devotion, strength, and life-saving capabilities raise an unreachable standard for real boys. But I don’t think so. Because I see all of those things in the real boys around me.
Names. They’re usually the first piece of personal information you learn about a person. And they have so much power. As parents, the names we give our children (real or hypothetical) shape an essential part of who they ultimately become. It could ruin their lives.
Is that a slightly dramatic assessment? Maybe. But I’m a writer. And a theater nerd. Being dramatic is part of my DNA. Continue reading
If you’ve consumed any form of story, you’ve likely run into characters that didn’t seem quite right. Dragons, pantheons, acrobatic Chinese boy bands– you can suspend your disbelief for all of these things, yet somehow you can’t bring yourself to fully believe in a character.
What does a pirate who is afraid of water have in common with a thief who has a conscious or a snowman who loves summer? What about that monster who is innocent and wants to be loved? That vampire who detests human blood? That sister who wants to save a life but must kill to do it?
At a conference awhile back I heard an agent talk about internal contradictions in characters. Basically, she claimed that the greatest characters, the ones who keep coming back around, are those with the greatest internal and external dichotomy –what they do contrasts with who they are.
This contradiction causes tension and conflict. We are being pulled to opposite ends. It begs resolution. How can we bring these two sides together so there is peace? Continue reading
You can give your character a history, style, idiolect, and driving purpose, but until they have fears they’ll never feel quite real.
Have you ever gotten side-tracked in the midst of a climactic scene? Say your Hero is just about to charge into battle, or the Heroine is finally going to open that forbidden door, and a side character pops in to play a partial/ important/ crucial role, and then suddenly you’re off, writing their backstory, romping through their history and quirks, and discovering what their dreams in life are.
If this phenomenon sounds familiar, then welcome! Continue reading